Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Book Review - Sawdust and Spangles: The Amazing Life of W.C. Coup

When I was a child, I had two fantasies about running away from home. One was to join the circus and care for the animals -- lions, tigers, bears, and elephants. The other was to join Jacques Cousteau and sail the world in search of amazing and exotic sea creatures. William C. Coup, a man born in 1837, not only had similar dreams, he made them come true!
Sawdust and Spangles: The Amazing Life of W.C. Coup is a picture book biography that details Coup's boyhood and rise to circus eminence. But Coup didn't stop there. He had a vision that allowed him to grow his circus show beyond the traditional big top.

The book begins with William's boyhood in Indiana, where he helped out with his father's tavern. The turning point in his life is described early on.
William made his way into the big tent. Inside he saw lions and elephants and a giraffe as tall as a tree! There was a tightrope walker, acrobats on horseback, and even a strongman who could break steel chains with his bare hands!

And clowns who made him laugh so hard his sides hurt!

William instantly fell in love with the sights and sounds of the big top, and it was at the moment that he made a decision that would change his world forever: He decided to run away with the circus!
The authors describe how William, later known as W.C., worked his way up through the ranks to eventually run his own circus. He became known for his sideshow acts and outstanding performers, including General Tom Thumb and Dan Rice, the King of Clowns. Before long, P.T. Barnum came calling, and W.C. Coup went to New York City to join him. It was under Coup's direction that the Great Roman Hippodrome was opened, and it was Coup who convinced Barnum to take the show on the road, using the first circus trains to move it.

Even with all his success in the circus, Coup still had another dream, on to create a museum of aquatic wonder. He traveled the world to find all sorts of exotic sea creatures, ultimately building the New York Aquarium to house them.

The book ends on a happy note, with Coup seeing the fulfillment of his dreams. However, readers learn in the author's note that when Coup and his partner could not resolve a disagreement relating to the aquarium, they decided to flip a coin for ownership. Coup lost and had to walk away from his creation. He did not give up on his love for the circus life, and ran several other shows, including monster shows and several touring Wild West shows. I found the author's note to be helpful and informative, though I wish it had included some dates or a timeline. I had to search the web to find out exactly when Coup lived. The inclusion of dates would have strengthened the text.

Overall, I found this book to be very entertaining. The colorful and primitive artwork by Giselle Potter is lovely and nicely complements this compelling story. I highly recommend this biography.

Book: Sawdust and Spangles: The Amazing Life of W.C. Coup
Authors: Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills
Illustrator: Giselle Potter
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 1, 2007
Pages: 32
Grades: K-3
ISBN-10: 0810993511
ISBN-13: 978-0810993518
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased for Cybils consideration

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