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James A. Bailey

Middle Grade; Lit Crit, Lit Bio, Essay, Film; (Market)

A biography of James Anthony Bailey, partner of P. T. Barnum and owner/manager of The Greatest Show on Earth during the Golden Age of the 19th Century circus.
Reviews
Millions still recall the flamboyant nineteenth-century showman P.T. Barnum, but fewer are familiar with James Bailey, Barnum’s big-hearted partner in the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Adams’s fascinating, fast-paced biography for middle-grade readers highlights Bailey’s contributions to “the greatest show on Earth” while telling the story of his ambitious and exciting life. Orphaned at the age of eight, Bailey joined the circus just five years later, largely to escape the harsh treatment and severe punishments of his older sister. That was the beginning of a life spent hanging out “every day with elephants, camels, giraffes, monkeys, lions, tigers, bears, horses, and snakes.”

As a determined and innovative young man, Bailey’s clout quickly grew in the circus world. In 1880, the 70-year-old Barnum, a competitor of Bailey’s in the circus world, wanted to buy a newborn elephant from Bailey’s establishment–a purchase that kick-started their history-making partnership. To tell Bailey’s story, Adams intersperses traditional narratives with eye-catching graphics and remarkable circus facts and terms: a tattooed man is known as a “picture gallery,” and the circus elephant required 200 pounds of hay a day. Full pages of colorful, nostalgic circus folklore showing magnificent animals and performers will hold the interest of younger readers and spark their imagination–like the posters for “Evetta, The Only Lady Clown” and a reproduction of an original Barnum & Bailey admission ticket.

While animal-oriented circuses have gotten a bad rap in recent years, this upbeat stroll down memory lane recalls the curiosity and intrigue of a time when gathering under the big top to see musical donkeys and Jumbo the elephant was truly a novel experience. Adams’s snappy prose will be easy for young readers to follow and understand as they become acquainted with Bailey–along with the exhilaration and adventure of being swept up into the golden age of the circus.

Takeaway:With sharp prose and colorful images, Adams does justice to the exciting life of James Bailey, co-founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Great for fans of: Jen Bryant’s Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, Deborah Heiligman’s Vincent and Theo.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: B+

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