Dottie Allegro-Canal’s picture book, The Circus and Joe Brown, is a simple celebration of the always-magical day when the circus comes to town. It is written for preschoolers in rhyming verse.
Joe Brown is an adult lion with a very special mission: He leads the circus into town. When he arrives wearing a top hat with a blue flower (and later a pink bunny rabbit popping out of the hat as it hitches a ride), townsfolk young and old are enchanted. He struts down the street, proud and happy. And like the Pied Piper, Joe soon has all the children following along.
Allegro-Canal’s verse is slim – there are only eight stanzas here – and one wishes we could learn more about the other characters in the circus parade, or even more about Joe, who remains a mystery. Is he really allowed to wander down the street out of his cage? Where is the Lion Tamer? Children will love the pure silliness of a lion wearing a top hat, but they will also want more.
In addition, the rhymes here sometimes fall out of rhythm (“The children in our little town/Were certainly delighted [sic]/Watching just how Joe Brown strutted/Made them so excited [sic]”), and punctuation is occasionally lacking, as can be seen by the missing periods in the verse above.
Finally, while the illustrations here have a gentle homemade feel that is charming, they aren’t of professional quality. In the case of Joe, they can also seem repetitious. (Joe has a sweet, happy face, which children will love, but his expression on page 7 and page 11 is exactly the same.)
The book ends with a collage that includes uncredited and uncaptioned photographs: What circuses are these? This sudden addition of reality feels odd in a book that begins with “Once upon a special time…”
In sum, while this picture book has bounce and good heart, it requires some thoughtful revision to attract a wider audience.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.