From School Library Journal
Grade 6 Up-A riveting account of a horrific event that killed 167 people, mostly women and children, and injured 500. In a collection of narrative poems, Janeczko describes a circus fire that took place on July 6, 1944 in Hartford, CT, from the viewpoints of those who were there. The event's horror leaps vividly from each poem. The brief book is divided into three parts-a sort of introduction, the fire itself, and the aftermath as people tried to understand what went wrong. Readers hear from police officers, and many circus people, as well as the 13-year-old girl whose friends were lucky enough to go to the circus while she had to stay home. The voices lend immediacy to the story and enhance the sense of tragedy. This is a memorable historical fiction selection, similar in intensity to Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust
(1997) and Witness
(2001, both Scholastic).-Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
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Gr. 4-8. Based on a real circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1944 that killed 167 in a few minutes and injured more than 500, Janeczko's spare poetic novel describes the events in the voices of 29 eyewitnesses: children and adults in the audience, circus folk, and townspeople. First, there's the excitement before the show, then the horror of the sudden wild flames and screaming panic, and finally the "shuffling and sobbing" of families in grief. Many voices sound too much the same; but the words are plain, with short lines that are very easy to read, and the stories they tell are unforgettable. A child escapes, but watches her mother and brother "swept away by the rush." A young trainer saves the elephants ("the herd lined up / tail-to trunk / just like they'd been taught"). A firefighter explains that the canvas tent was waterproofed with paraffin and gasoline ("one huge candle / just waiting for a light"). Janeczko never sensationalizes the horror, but the combination of a thrilling circus and true catastrophe will grab middle-schoolers, especially for readers' theater. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved