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The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum Hardcover – September 8, 2009

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 980L (What's this?)
  • Series: AWARDS: ALA Best Books for Young Adults 2010
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375841970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375841972
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.7 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6 Up—It is unlikely that Barnum ever actually said "There's a sucker born every minute," but he freely admitted to being a master of the "humbug"—a spectacle that both fooled and entertained the public. This highly readable biography uses primary sources, including Barnum's own words, to trace the man's roller-coaster life from his boyhood in Connecticut to his early career as the creator of the country's most famous "museums" (comparable to sideshows) to his later role as the master of enormously successful circuses, winning and losing several fortunes along the way. Fleming captures Barnum's exuberant personality and describes how his gift for promotion and dedication to delivering what the public wanted made him the world's most famous showman. She also reveals the private Barnum, a man who valued culture, had deep religious beliefs, and devoted considerable time and funds to charity and public service. Fleming is admiring of Barnum, but does not dismiss his weaknesses and faults. The text is supplemented with sidebars and reproductions of period photos and illustrations, including several of Barnum's advertisements. The bibliography includes Web sites and a selection of primary- and secondary-source books, and notes are done in paragraph format. This book goes beyond traditional biography to give students an objective and informative glimpse into the sometimes-exploitative world of 19th-century entertainment. An outstanding choice for all middle level and secondary collections.—Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO END


New York Times Book Review, December 6, 2009: “Lively… an engrossing portrait…honest and fun”

Starred Review, Booklist, June 1, 2009:
“The material is inherently juicy, but credit Fleming’s vivacious prose, bountiful period illustrations, and copious source notes for fashioning a full picture of one of the forbearers of modern celebrity.”

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2009:
"As revealing as it is entertaining."

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2009: "the extensive gallery of period photos, engravings, and advertising bills, are worth the price of admission, and bibliography, source notes, index, and web resources will assist students in turning a rousing good read into an entertaining school report."

Publishers Weekly, August 31, 2009: "Audiences will step right up to this illuminating and thorough portrait of an entertainment legend"

School Library Journal, September 2009: "An outstanding choice for all middle level and secondary collections."

Instructor, November/December 2009: "You'll want to invite readers to step right up to this three-ring circus of a biography, which not only tells the story of P.T. Barnum, but also the circus culture he helped create and his impact and modern entertainment."

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 11 customer reviews
An amazing book, all the way around!
Susan Armstrong
The publisher suggests this book for ages 8-12; I would add that it is equally suitable for young adults and adults as well.
M. Tanenbaum
I've always been curious about P.T. Barnum.
Andrew J. Jensen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm trying to work out why exactly this is the only children's biography of P.T. Barnum I remember having seen before. I'm sure there are others. If I could just lift my lazy fingers high enough to type in "P.T. Barnum" into my library's catalog system I'm sure I'd find a couple. But why only a couple? Why isn't Barnum as popular a topic as, say, Houdini? Both spent their lives bamboozling people, one way or another. But where Houdini got off looking like a star, people are awfully mixed on Barnum. Which, I suppose, answers my own question. Why aren't there that many children's bios of Mr. B? Probably because he wasn't a very good man or a very bad man. He was just a very talented man with a fair amount of problems. The kind of guy who loved children... and was, for a time, an alcoholic who would leave his wife to faint in public. Who fought for the right for blacks to vote... and owned a slave. Multifaceted people don't end up in children's biographies all that often because it takes a dedicated author to have the guts to show the bad alongside the good. Guts like Candace Fleming's got. Guts like what you'd find in The Great and Only Barnum.

It's nice when a life has a defining moment in it. P.T. Barnum's apparently came when, as a kid, he discovered that his inheritance from his practical joker of a grandfather was a swampy snake-infested spit of land. Meant to humble young Tale and turn him into a hard worker, the plan backfired. Instead the lad fell in love with bamboozling and practical jokes. Born in 1810, young Tale had already learned that he wasn't much for manual labor. Nor, for that matter, was he cut out to work in shops or behind desks. If it bored him, he wasn't interested. Maybe that's why he got into the business of showmanship.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Susan Armstrong on October 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is the most fun I've had reading history in years. The stories are told with gusto. The book's design is delightful. And the photographs?! What kid (especially a boy) won't be drawn into its pages by bearded ladies and dog-faced boys. Better yet, the history IS important. I discovered that PT Barnum is more than a circus guy. His innovations in the art of marketing, advertising, celebrity are still with us today. An amazing book, all the way around!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By N. S. VINE VOICE on November 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Two summers ago I traveled across the country to attend the tie dye-attired Gathering of the Vibes music festival at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut. While wandering about the Park that weekend, I came upon an imposing statue of showman P. T. Barnum and also noticed a Park road named in his honor. I wondered what that was all about. Now I know.

When P. T Barnum was born in Connecticut in 1810, the U.S. was comprised of 17 states and Lewis and Clark had only recently completed their death-defying expedition to the Pacific coast and back. When Barnum died in 1891, the nation had expanded to 43 states and he was sending mile-long trainloads of circus people, animals, and tents into those once-distant regions of the country to entertain millions and generations of Americans.

By the time the paradoxical showman and impresario died, he was also the best-known American in the world, and he had forever changed our world -- for better or for worse -- by giving birth to modern day concepts and processes of celebrity, hype, and publicity machines.

"Tale learned two lessons that he remembered all his life. The first was 'learning how to call an adversary's bluff with a threat that cannot be ignored.' The second was 'When entertaining the public, it is best to have an elephant.'"

Writing and reading about many of the Founding Fathers is forever complicated by the long, dark shadow cast by their ownership of slaves and their treatment of women. In a similar fashion, Candace Fleming's fascinating and thought-provoking biography of Phineas Taylor Barnum compels one to reflect upon his treatment of people and animal performers, his outrageous distortions and hoaxes, and his seduction and subversion of the media.
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Format: Hardcover
Phineas T. Barnum seemed to be a go-getter from day one. He was a young entrepreneur with prodigious math skills and by the time he reached the age of seven he was earning so much money, his father insisted he purchase his own clothing. He was quietly duped into believing he would one day be wealthy because he owned Ivy Island, in reality a mucky swamp. He later turned that property into collateral for one of the most advantageous deals of his life and could spout with pride, "I became a chip off my grandfather's block," a first class prankster. Not content to be a mere shop keeper his mind was always whirling, thinking up fantastical get-rich schemes so he wouldn't have to slave the rest of his life.

He saw great opportunities ahead when he purchased Joice Heth, purportedly "The World's Oldest Living Woman," a 161-year-old former slave who had changed George Washington's diapers. Money was to be made, but when the fraud was discovered his name would forever be "linked with hoaxes and fakery." Later when he became successful with his museum, Barnum's American Museum, and other amazing oddities, the New York Sun declared his name was "synonymous with the curious, the wondrous, the odd." He toured the world with unusual people like Tom Thumb, built himself Iranistan, a palace, invented the three ring circus . . . if it could be done, P.T. Barnum would do it. Especially if Barnum, the "Prince of Humbugs," could make a buck!

Years ago I read Barnum's autobiography and thoroughly enjoyed it, but this biography was exciting, fun and will keep his memory alive with yet another generation of children. I like the fact that the book stressed the fact that Barnum hired the disabled when they otherwise would languish in the back wards of institutions or remain unemployed.
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More About the Author

I have always been a storyteller. Even before I could write my name, I could tell a good tale. And I told them all the time. As a preschooler, I told my neighbors all about my three-legged cat named Spot. In kindergarten, I told my classmates about the ghost that lived in my attic. And in first grade I told my teacher, Miss Harbart, all about my family's trip to Paris, France.

I told such a good story that people always thought I was telling the truth. But I wasn't. I didn't have a three-legged cat or a ghost in my attic, and I'd certainly never been to Paris, France. I simply enjoyed telling a good story... and seeing my listener's reaction.

Sure, some people might have said I was a seven-year old fibber. But not my parents. Instead of calling my stories "fibs" they called them "imaginative." They encouraged me to put my stories down on paper. I did. And amazingly, once I began writing, I couldn't stop. I filled notebook after notebook with stories, poems, plays. I still have many of those notebooks. They're precious to me because they are a record of my writing life from elementary school on.

In second grade, I discovered a passion for language. I can still remember the day my teacher, Miss Johnson, held up a horn-shaped basket filled with papier-mache pumpkins and asked the class to repeat the word "cornucopia." I said it again and again, tasted the word on my lips. I tested it on my ears. That afternoon, I skipped all the way home from school chanting, "Cornucopia! Cornucopia!" From then on, I really began listening to words--to the sounds they made, and the way they were used, and how they made me feel. I longed to put them together in ways that were beautiful, and yet told a story.

As I grew, I continued to write stories. But I never really thought of becoming an author. Instead, I went to college where I discovered yet another passion--history. I didn't realize it then, but studying history is really just an extension of my love of stories. After all, some of the best stories are true ones -- tales of heroism and villainy made more incredible by the fact they really happened.

After graduation, I got married and had children. I read to them a lot, and that's when I discovered the joy and music of children's books. I simply couldn't get enough of them. With my two sons in tow, I made endless trips to the library. I read stacks of books. I found myself begging, "Just one more, pleeeeease!" while my boys begged for lights-out and sleep. Then it struck me. Why not write children's books? It seemed the perfect way to combine all the things I loved: stories, musical language, history, and reading. I couldn't wait to get started.

But writing children's books is harder than it looks. For three years I wrote story after story. I sent them to publisher after publisher. And I received rejection letter after rejection letter. Still, I didn't give up. I kept trying until finally one of my stories was pulled from the slush pile and turned into a book. My career as a children's author had begun.

For more information visit my website: www.candacefleming.com.

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