Published in 1956 by Random House
Review by Chicago Tribune on the Dust Jacket: “The quality of telling and picturing fantastic tales with a literal acceptance of their fantasy is what has made Dr.Seuss one of the most popular of today’s writers and illustrators for children.”
The story opens with young Morris McGurk telling us that his favorite place in the whole town is an old vacant lot behind Sneelock’s Store. He is walking along the edge of the fence that surrounds the lot and old Sneelock is calmly smoking a pipe as he leans in the doorway of his shop with his eyes closed, unaware of the amazing world that Morris McGurk is about to involve him in.
Morris McGurk decides he could easily clean up the vacant lot and put up some tents for his circus, which he’ll call The Circus McGurkus!
“The World’s Greatest Show
On the face of the earth, or wherever you go!”
As Morris McGurk imagines all the amazing animals, and events at his wonderful Circus McGurkus he also includes old Sneelock, starting by simply saying:
“After all, Mr. Sneelock is one of my friends.
He might even help out doing small odds and ends.
Doing little odd jobs, he could be of some aid…
Such as selling balloons and pink lemonade.”
But as the story goes on and The Circus McGurkus becomes more grand. Mr. Sneelock is involved in more and more daring feats, such as having an arrow shot at his head, or going through a course of Stickle-Bush Trees on Roller-Skate-Skis! As the feats become steadily more dangerous, Sneelock’s costumes become more ridiculous. He goes from his normal pants, long sleeve shirt and vest, to a full marching band outfit, as well as a Colonel’s uniform, a fur Tarzan-like leotard, and eventually shirtless with bright red leggings as he jumps into a fish bowl (that is shockingly like the fish bowl in The Cat in the Hat). All of this, Sneelock does with his pipe in his mouth and his little round glasses on his nose.
At the end of the story, we come back to the first image, but now Morris is leaning confidently against a tree gesturing to the empty lot and old Sneelock, saying:
“Why! He’ll be a Hero!
Of course he won’t mind
When he finds he has
A big circus behind.”
And Sneelock, as if he’s heard the whole story, is wide-eyed with concern at what is expected of him in this fantastical Circus McGurkus.
Once again, Seuss tells a story through a young boy’s wild imagination. Something new is the use of Sneelock as a devise to show us the gradual, but very steady progression of the boys imagination. From the beginning Sneelock is present. There is a pyramid of cups in the window of his little shop. The leap from Sneelock standing outside his shop to standing inside a booth is not very extreme and the small pyramid of cups easily transforms into a mountain of lemonade, but Morris McGurk doesn’t stop there. As he adds more amazing things to the circus, Sneelock’s involvement becomes more paramount.
He starts out by saying, “he might even help out,” but ends with “Of course he won’t mind,” as if it is now a given, because Sneelock is his friend so he’ll do whatever is needed.
My absolute favorite part of this book is the crowd that comes to see the circus. Seuss draws them very simply with just a few lines, but each one of them is unique and a character all on their own. It’s almost like looking through Where’s Waldo. You can find little babies being held in the air, or a man looking over the edge with just his eyes and nose visible. These aren’t pages you flip through quickly. You want to stop and examine each page to make sure you catch everything!
It’s also super fun to read of course. Seuss really starts to play with the sound of words leading your tongue to say things before your mind can correct it. For example, he rhymes “golf” with “mysolf”, as well as, “surprises” with “eyses” and you automatically say the incorrect pronunciation, because the rhythm is so smooth and the rhyme rolls of your tongue, making the incorrect correct.
Like the other books Seuss published at this time, the illustrations go back and forth between Yellow and Red and Blue and Red.
Bennett Cerf, a publisher at Random House, requested another “winning formula” like If I Ran the Zoo. If I Ran the Zoo was dedicated to Seuss’s mother and this one was dedicated to his father.
The dedication is written inside of three balloons being carried by a clown and a dog. It reads:
“THIS BOOK IS FOR
BIG TED of SPRINGFIELD
THE FINEST MAN
This is the first time that Seuss names his relationship to the person that the dedication is for.
As I’ve said before, Seuss’ father was very involved at the Springfield Zoo and he got his son involved as well. This exposure to animals from all over the world surely affected and encouraged Seuss’ beastiary imagination.
The first edition had pink curtains on the cover, and the newest version has one of the more booming creatures featured on the front.
The inside cover is one of the most colorful and detailed so far.
This is the first glimpse we see of the fantastic creatures and acts that will be including in the magnificent Circus McGurkus! I chose it as my favorite, because it gets the reader all excited to see what is inside the tent and Morris McGurk doesn’t disappoint.
“Then I’ll let Sneelock off for a few minutes’s rest
While high over your heads you will see the best best
Of the world’s finest, fanciest Breezy Trapeezing!
My Zoom-a-Zoop Troupe from West Upper Ben-Deezing
Who never quite know, while they zoop and they zoom,
Whether which will catch what one, or who will catch whom
Or if who will catch which by the what and just where,
Or just when and just how in which part of the air!”
The last four lines are my favorite. They’re all such simple words, but they are all jumbled together and the rhythm is so fast, just like the trapeze-swingers that are all over the page.
Thanks for reading,
Jack St. Rebor