BIG TOP BURNING: THE STORY OF AN ARSONIST, A MISSING GIRL, AND THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH by Laura A. Woollett tells the true story of a circus fire tragedy and its aftermath.
Set in 1944, this well-written work of nonfiction for middle-grade readers describes the terrible fire that killed 167 people including 59 children. The book explores the many mysteries surrounding the disaster including the cause of the fire, criminal investigations, and identification of bodies. While some questions remain unanswered, youth will be intrigued by the scope of the story.
Filled with amazing photographs, survivor interviews, and other primary source materials, the book also contains an author’s note, notes, bibliography, and index. Wollett brings the incident alive by combining the historical accounts with the mystery surrounding the disaster. The author does a stellar job describing the gripping story in an age-appropriate way. For example, she focuses on the mystery of an unidentified little girl. Youth will enjoy evaluating the evidence and drawing their own conclusions.
This short book would be a good choice for reluctant readers looking for an interesting history project topic. Display it with other books about tragic fire disasters such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
To learn more about the author, go to http://www.laurawoollett.com/.
Published by Chicago Press on June 1, 2015.