Sizzling Summer Read: Big Top Burning

Over at Wrapped in Foil we are featuring a hot read for summer for middle grade and up, Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show On Earth by Laura A. Woollett.


Big Top Burning chronicles the 1944 Hartford Circus Fire, which occurred during a performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barney & Bailey Circus. While the spectators were watching the Flying Wallendas high wire act, the big top tent caught fire. In only 10 minutes the whole thing had burned down, killing 167 people and injuring many more. It is one of the worst fire disasters in U.S. history.

Illustrated with black and white photographs from before, during and after the fire, and sprinkled with numerous quotes from spectators and victims, the readers feel like they’ve gone back in time to witness events firsthand. Although told in chronological order (with the disaster described at the first part of the book), the story does not lose impact because of the lingering questions that remain even to this day. How did it happen? Was it an accident or was it arson? Why were so many people trapped and killed? The event is not only a tragedy, but also a lasting mystery.

Big Top Burning is an excellent choice for older reluctant readers, because it is impossible to put down. Truly, nonfiction at its finest.