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To the Big Top / by Jill Esbaum, illustrated by David Gordon

 


Title:  To the Big Top
Author:  Jill Esbaum
Illustrator:  David Gordon
Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN:  0-374-39934-4
Year:  2008
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 3.1

Concepts:  jobs, scarcity, opportunity cost, choice, exchange.

Review:  Sam and Benny wake up before dawn to greet the circus train at the rail yard, and they eagerly anticipate a day of excitement with circus events.  The boys help the workers set up for the show, they watch the parade from atop a tree, and they take in the sights and smells during their walk down the midway. A near mishap with a lost ticket almost costs them the opportunity to enjoy the main event, but some smart thinking prevents this disappointment.

While the circus theme is no stranger to children’s literature, this book stands out for the economics lessons that are carefully woven throughout the tale.  An author’s note conveys the importance of the circus as a source of amusement during a time period with fewer options for entertainment, and as a source of jobs for hundreds of employees in a variety of occupations.  Also incorporated into the story are the ideas of scarcity (Sam and Benny have no money but they are rewarded for their volunteer work with two nickels and two tickets), choice (they need to decide how to spend their precious nickels on the many food and entertainment options in the midway), and exchange (they make a trade in order to get back the missing ticket).  This clever book is no ordinary circus tale.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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