Jack and the Fantastical Circus – Ariel and Michael Tyson

Jack and the Fantastical Circus Ariel Michael Tyson
Jack and the Fantastical Circus by Ariel Tyson, Michael Tyson, Mary Manning
Published by Good True Media on October 31, 2021
Genres: Children's
Buy on Amazon

Virtue? What’s that? And where can I find it?
On a trip to see his granddad, ten-year-old Jack falls asleep while his dad explains virtue. Suddenly he wakes up on a Circus Train! Led through each fantastical train car by the Ringleader, Reno, Jack comes face to face with a huge lion, flying flame torches, a silly juggler, daring tightrope walker and other memorable circus performers who have spent years cultivating a particular virtue for their acts!  Virtue Circus shows children that virtue is ultimately found inside of each and every one of us, but it takes practice and dedication to grow them for our different walks of life.

Jack and the Fantastical Circus is a colorful exploration of virtues as told through a circus train, as dreamed by a young boy on the way to see his grandpa. The story-within-a-story is a bit of an odd setup, but it seems as if Ariel and Michael Tyson wanted the core of the story to be grounded in reality (a young boy travels to see his grandpa) while the fantastical elements happen in a dream.

While colorful, the story is pretty paint-by-numbers as each panel correlates a type of virtue with a job in the circus. Supposedly, Jack is on a circus train and is going car by car to the different performers, but the illustrations don’t really back that up. The lion tamer is actively working with his lion. The strongman is hefting his giant weights. The trapeze artists are swinging. Yet we’re clearly told that this is the “virtue circus train” and it’s in the final empty car that the story ends. I suppose we’re banking on the fantastical dreamscape to tie it all together, but it seems unnecessarily confusing to young readers.

There’s also quite a lot of text on every page, making this a picture book for older readers, probably around mid-elementary. It’s a bit lengthy as a book to be read in one sitting and won’t hold the attention of younger children. Finally, the font and font colors aren’t always the easiest to read. The curliness of the font and some of the colorization blending into the background make reading a chore—something to be especially considered when the target audience is newer readers.

As for the book’s content, everything is solid. The strongman talks about commitment. The trapeze artists about faith. The clown about kindness. (Maybe a bit of a reach on that one?) But the content is didactic, not part of a narrative. If you have a kid that really likes circuses, this might be one to pick up (though the $25 price tag seems excessive), but otherwise it’s a bit generic and nothing stands out to me as exceptional.