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Circus Ship

Author: Chris Van Dusen

Favorite Not Set
5.0 out of 5 stars (based on 1 review)

ISBN: 9780763630904

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Binding: Hardcover

Year Distributed: 2017 - 2018

Availability: Past Books

Themes/Topics: Animals, Rhymes & Nursery Rhymes

Maine Based
Book Acticity

An 1836 shipwreck off the coast of Isle au Haut, Maine, is reimagined by Maine's beloved picture book creator, Chris Van Dusen. The Royal Tar was carrying circus animals from St. John, Nova Scotia, to Portland, Maine, when it ran aground. With his stunning artwork and rollicking rhyming text, Van Dusen shows the animals coming ashore at Isle au Haut and taking up residence (much to the dismay of the islanders). The menagerie, however, soon wins over the wary townspeople with their kind, courageous ways. When the unkind circus owner returns to claim the animals, the townspeople and animals conspire to keep them on the island.

Age Group 5 years

What’s Happening at this Age

  • Matching each letter to the sound it represents
  • Identifying the beginning, middle, and ending sounds in spoken words like dog or sit
  • Saying new words by changing the beginning sound, like changing rat to sat
  • Starting to match words they hear to words they see on the page
  • Sounding out simple words
  • Starting to recognize some words by sight without having to sound them out
  • Asking and answering who, what, where, when, why, and how questions about a story
  • Retelling a story in order, using words or pictures
  • Predicting what happens next in a story

Your child likely will learn all the letters and their sounds this year. Some combinations of letters are still tricky for children to hear but they’re learning all the time. By making these connections, your child can also start to write and decode some easy words and begin reading short books to you. Their comprehension of what’s going on in the more complex stories you are reading to them will help them understand the simple stories they can read themselves. Continuing to read to your child, even when they’re able to read, will give you both a chance to talk about more complicated books and continue the beautiful relationship you started together 5 years ago. Reading together can still be the very best part of the day for you and your child!

Click here to see a full list of milestones for your 5-year-old as well as tips and activities for you and your child!

Why did we select this book?

We chose this book because the engaging story and bold illustrations were made for your family in a little studio in Camden, Maine, by the talented Chris Van Dusen. Readers will find many laughs in the rhyming text and much excitement as the tiger saves a child from a sudden fire. When the animals are hidden from the circus owner with clever camouflage, the reader is in for a search and find surprise. The creatures are so well disguised that each new discovery of an animal is a small victory for your soon-to-be reader. Victories and discoveries like this build strong relationships between your child and books.

Book Acticity
Related Activities

10 Ways to Explore Circus Ship: Click to download our suggestions for simple (and fun!) activities for this favorite Raising Readers book.

Read this note from Chris Van Dusen to Maine 5 year-olds who received this book at their well visit:

Dear Most Excellent Reader,

First of all, congratulations! You’ve reached an important milestone and have officially graduated from the Raising Readers program. This is a big deal! And you know what?  It’s a big deal for me, too, because the book they chose to celebrate your graduation is one of my books! Neat, huh?

This is your last Raising Readers book but don’t worry! You have plenty of reading adventures ahead. Get started at one of the most amazing places in the world – your local LIBRARY!  Think about what a wonderful thing a library is: you can go there and pick out all the books you want, and they’ll let you borrow them for free! Even your best friend doesn’t have that many books to share with you.

Speaking of friends, that’s what books are for me: good friends. I miss them when we’re apart and I can’t wait to see them again. I hope THE CIRCUS SHIP becomes your friend, a friend you come back to over and over. I hope you enjoy the adventure. And I hope you can find all the circus animals hidden in the picture toward the end of the book.  A couple are pretty hard to spot!

Best wishes, have fun, and KEEP READING!
Chris Van Dusen


A beautifully illustrated Maine history story

April 12, 2022

We love Chris Van Dusen and I’d never heard this story until reading this book. There are also fun things to find hidden in the illustrations for kiddos.


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