fp May 2004
Paul B. Janeczko
from the book...
Harry King, war veteran, went to the circus to take his mind off things. Eddy Carlyle, sideshow fan, came to see the freaks. And eleven-year-old Polly McDonald, who wanted to stay outside with the animals, went in anyway because Aunt Betty didn't want to miss the Greatest Show on Earth.
And then firefighters were called, but they were too late to save Harry or Eddy, or Polly and her aunt Betty, because the canvas tent, waterproofed with gasoline and paraffin, caught fire like "one huge candle / just waiting for a light."
These haunting poems of dreams and disaster, heroism and heartbreak, draw their power from a true event: the Hartford, Connecticut, circus fire of July 6, 1944, in which 167 people were killed and more than 500 injured.
If you have read this verse novel and would like to share your opinion of it with other readers please send your review or comments to YARR-A
A horrifying real life book!
Paul B. Janeczko has done a great job in portraying all the different views of people who were involved in a fire. The feelings were expressed clearly and although it was through poems you were still able to understand it. He has brought it all back to life for you to let you know the history and you can’t help but be grateful to him.
At first you don’t know what to think or expect but as you start to read more into the book you just keep reading because you want to know what happened to those people. You want to see what they felt, the horror they must have gone through when all they wanted was an afternoon off from the world where they could laugh and forget about their worries. The climax of the book is when the tent catches fire and you see it from many different points of view; from the people who worked there, the people who saw it from the outside, the people who smelt it first and many more. You are captured in their experiences.
The book was scary because you realise this isn’t just a book; it’s real life, it actually happened. Real nurses and firefighters actually experienced all those troubles. We won’t forget about all those people who lost their lives on that sad afternoon, but still remember them. Paul B. Janeczko has done a great job and I can’t wait to read more of his work.
Frances, age 15, Canberra, Australia
The verse novel Worlds Afire by Paul B. Janeczko is a very imaginative, yet haunting account of the 1944 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus disaster in Hartford. A fire started in the southwest corner of the big top. It ripped through the tent with tremendous and terrifying speed. The tent had been sealed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline; it was said to be like one huge candle, just waiting for a light.
Paul B. Janeczko has creatively written the book by using a series of journals or written accounts of the events that happened that day. The ‘story’ is broken into segments by the use of the chapters: before, during and after the fire. There are many people featured in this book and it gives the dead ‘a voice’. I quite enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to any young adult as it may be a little too graphic at times for younger readers.
Brad, Year 10, Canberra, Australia
Worlds Afire by Paul B. Janeczko follows the story of a circus show gone wrong. Readers enter the minds of children, parents, circus performers and more who became heroes, cowards and victims to a fire set upon them from hell itself.
Janeczko’s writing explores the power and effect human emotion can have on someone when it’s mixed with adrenaline and the desperation for survival. When this happens there is no limit to how much a person will change or how far they will go to accomplish what is on their minds at the time. For example at the time of the blaze thoughts of killing and sacrifice become second nature, surrounding people became another life to save or another obstacle in the way, the screams of those that death has devoured are another reason to push harder or bring another tear to your eye.
Although they may be fictional characters this event and reactions are very real. That’s what makes this novel more emotional; it’s based on a true circus fire in Connecticut where 167 people were killed and 500 injured most being women and children. It has been written as a three part series: from pre-disaster, to disaster and then aftermath. From hearing about some guy admiring the circus tent then to part two and he is struggling and punching other people to get out followed up with part three where he has been crushed and horribly burned by a falling pole.
Although this book may appear to be aimed at a younger audience, when you start to read of burnt flesh your stomach begins to churn, your blood runs cold and you begin to only touch on the horror that the victims of the real tragedy went through.
The novel is verse based which makes it not too full on to read but still holds the same level of intensity and enjoyment. I think it’s guaranteed to leave you thinking “I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight or go to a circus ever again!”. Worlds Afire has been written to educate us on how powerful our emotions can be and how important it is that we control them in times of crisis. If I have learnt one thing from this book it’s that the next time I go to the circus those clowns are the last thing I’m going to fear!
James, Year 10, Canberra, Australia
Worlds Afire is a captivating verse novel by Paul B. Janeczko about a fire in a circus owned by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It is set in 1944 and told through the views of different people. The book covers what happened during the horrific fire and what happened both before and after it. The book is split into 3 parts each depicting a part of the day before the fire, during the fire and after the fire. The way the circus was designed was horrible and as a result the circus went up like a giant candle. This verse novel was based near the end of the Second World War when many people were visiting the circus to take their minds off the horror of the war.
I quite liked the novel World’s Afire; it was rather interesting. The main downside I found to the book was that it was rather depressing to read. Despite this book’s depressing topic it was a really nice book to read and it is not an easily forgotten one. It has excellent descriptions and is captivating to the readers mind. I wouldn’t advise this book for readers younger than 12 because although it is relatively easy to read the topic might be a bit too much more some children to cope with properly. I would rate this book 9 out of 10.
Douglas, Year 8, Canberra, Australia