Friday, January 14, 2011

Non-animal circus books for children

The coming year's Summer Reading Challenge has the theme of 'circus', or rather 'Circus Stars.'

Personally I think that's a rather lazy connection with The Olympics, as in fact the Olympics Committees routinely reject circus-style performances as Olympic events (but that's a distraction). Ahem.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

What bothers me more is that most children's books about circus still focus on what is now a rather stereotyped and out of date image of circus - using the clich├ęs of lion-tamers and red-nosed clowns, ring-masters and elephants - as though writers and publishers had not actually been to a circus recently!

It's not just animal rights activists who have campaigned to remove exotic, tropical animals from the performing arena...the public's taste seems to have changed. Since David Attenborough began to show us animals in their natural habitat over 40 years ago, the need for travelling zoos and menageries has diminished - and that was the original connection with circuses.

People like Humane Society International probably campaign because of the relationship to animal cruelty; some Animal Rights activists obviously campaign for complete animal freedom (whether they are treated cruelly or not) which would also get rid of farms, not just laboratories and circuses; within the circus community there continues discussion about the difference between horse and dog acts (we watch the Royal Horse Show, and One Man and His Dog, etc) and the use of exotic animals.

So I don't want to get into the bitter arguments about whether animals should ever be confined (do we get rid of animal sanctuaries as well?), or whether zoos and circuses contribute to animal breeding programmes, etc - e.g. rants like The Real Anti-Circus Agenda, or any of that.

I am more interested in the trends in public entertainment, and audience sensibilities, and it does appear that less people enjoy seeing performing animals, generally - not just vegans, Buddhists and other sensitive souls. Likewise, a certain number of circuses with animals still find an audience...

And if, in children's publishing, books have now appeared about Gay Parenting (say) or Adopted Children and other challenges to stereotypes, like books dealing with issues that concern children, against racism and bullying for instance, isn't there a niche for a book or two about modern circus and the desire to leave animals out of it?

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