Read Aloud TATTLER #1 (The Circus Ship)

Text and Text Talk for raising Lifelong Engaged Readers

Here is my first Read Aloud TATTLER… Click here for the introduction/rationale for the TATTLER, and click here for a brief description of each of the TATTLER components. Hover over the Here is a list of the most challenging words in this book. Click here for simple ways to uncover word meanings with your child. below with your cursor for specific details and instructions for use.

The Circus Ship (by Chris Van Dusen)

Listening Level: PreS – Grade 3

Text Type: Picture book; fiction; narrative "Narrative" text is a story with a plot

Synopsis: When a circus ship is wrecked in a storm, the animals escape the greedy circus owner and make their way to a small island off the coast of Maine. The townspeople are at first wary of all of the animals, but they soon embrace them after the tiger rescues a toddler from a fire. When the circus owner returns to claim his menagerie, the people help the animals devise a plan to outsmart him so that he leaves alone. This is a fantastic story written by one of my favorite picture book authors.

Standout Text Features: 
– High-quality narrative, especially because of its compelling plot with an exciting sequence of events that gets readers caught up in predicting what will happen next*
– Rich vocabulary*
– Written in fabulous bouncy rhyming couplets, which makes for an engaging read aloud
– Fantastic illustrations — adorable, funny, rich detail that require analysis and extend the story
– The double-page spread of the animals hiding from Mr. Paine is clever and fun for readers of all ages!

Challenge Words: 
– Sincere: real and true; not pretend
Demanding: giving lots of orders; asking with force
– Daft: silly; foolish; crazy; lacking good sense
– Bedraggled: dirty, wet, or messy from having wandered through mud and water
– Staggered: wobbled; limped; walked in an unsteady way
– Menagerie: a collection of animals
– Tuckered: (out): tired; exhausted
 Heaving: (chest): moving up and down with much effort or difficulty


Target Comprehension Strategies/Skills
1. Predicting  
2. Making connections 

Before Reading Aloud 
– The title of this book is The Circus Ship.  What do you think this story may be about?  (Predicting)
– What do you know about the circus? What kinds of animals are there? Are all of the animals that you see on the cover animals that you’d really see at a circus? (Making Connections, text-to-world)

While Reading Aloud  
– (Pg.10, “The shattered ship…”)  In the real world, can all of these animals swim? (Making Connections, text-to-world)
– (Pg.11, “The captain said…”)  What do you think will happen to all of the animals? Why do you think that? (Predicting)
– (Pg.14, “They pulled themselves…”)  Did your prediction about what you thought would happen to all of the animals come true? Why/why not? (Evaluate prediction)
– (Pg.27, “Then little Red…”)  What do you think will happen next? How do you think they will try to save the animals from having to “sail off with that man”? Do you think the animals will end up leaving the island with the mean zookeeper? (Predicting)
– (Pg.31, “He hiked until…”)  If you were one of the people in this town, would you help to hide the animals like they did, or would you give them back to Mr. Paine? Why? (Making connections, text-to-self)
– (Pg.31-32)  Let’s see if we can find where all of the animals are hiding! (Just for fun!)
– (Pg.34, “Mr. Paine…”)  What do you think Mr. Paine will do next? (Predicting)

After Reading Aloud  
– If there were more pages, what do you think would happen next? (Predicting)
– What part of this story could happen in the real world? What parts could not happen in the real world? (Making connections, text-to-world)

“Conversation Starters” 
1. Do you think that the story would have been better if Mr. Paine had been allowed to take his circus animals back with him? Why or why not?
2. Mr. Payne was a selfish circus owner, only thinking about himself. How would the story be different if the author made him a thoughtful and caring character?
3. Look closely at the last page. Why do you think Mr. Paine left his hat and stick behind?
4. What do you think of this book title, The Circus Ship? Can you think of an even better title for this story? What would it be? Why did you pick that?

Bonus TATTLER Tips 
– For a bit of extra fun, read the book along with a bag of circus peanuts or with a box of Cracker Jacks!
– Check out the Ringling Brothers website ( to learn more about the circus and explore the animals with your child. You can also look up dates for shows in your area!
– This story is based on a historical event. Read aloud the author’s note on the last page. Children might be surprised to learn that there really was a “circus ship” (The Royal Tar) that sank off the coast of Maine. Discuss how a story can be based on a real event yet still a fictional tale (“historical fiction”). Share ideas about the similarities and differences between the actual shipwreck and Chris Van Dusen’s story.
– If your child is interested in learning more, search the internet together to research the actual shipwreck of the Royal Tar!

The next TATTLER text pick will be: Enemy Pie (by Derek Munson).

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3 Responses to Read Aloud TATTLER #1 (The Circus Ship)

  1. Julie Schulman says:

    Ali!! This is SO good!

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Angela Starnes-Laninga says:

    Fabulous material for parents! Most are more than willing to do this at home, they just need some information on how to go about it in the most productive way. You providing the easy to use lesson plans for parents is amazing. I am a middle school teacher wanting to similarly enable parents to do this at home. Do you know of anything like this at the middle school level? I will be encouraging those with younger children to look at your material.

    • aliposner says:

      Hi Angela,
      I’m sorry for my delayed reply. I’m out of the country right now with very limited internet access (which is driving me crazy!), so I’ve gotten very behind on my emails. Thank you for your feedback; I really appreciate it! I love hearing that you see some value in the TATTLER guides for parents. There’s so much great stuff out there with respect to reviewing and recommending good literature, but very little on how to use the lit to raise strategic and thoughtful readers. YES, like you said, I think most parents want what’s best for their kids educationally and want to help them however they can, but they don’t necessarily know the ways that are most effective or enduring. Anyway, I could go on an on — I’ll resist right now. I’d love to do many more TATTLERS for many more books, that was the idea — but it’s hard to know if parents are wanting the info/if it’s worth my time. I’m not big into social media so I know I’m not doing what I need to in order to generate traffic.

      Regarding your question about whether there is anything like this at the middle school level: I haven’t really seen much. I’d love to do this for middle grades too but started with elementary because that’s the ages of my own kids and professionally where I did all my research (early literacy development/instruction). The only resource I know that is somewhat like what I’m doing a book called Reading Together by Diane Frakenstein. I don’t have it with me on vacation right now but it has a large “Story Pages” section that recommends books to read aloud with specific questions and discussion points for each book. I think the oldest grade category that it targets is 4-6+ grades but I don’t remember how many books are actually in that section. Frekenstein’s work doesn’t integrate prompts that are specific to the comprehension strategies but it does have who/what/where/why questions as well as a “Look Closer” (I think that’s what it’s called) section that lists some deeper questions for each text. I think it’s a good resource, though I’m also concerned about helping parents promote use of the comprehension strategies that we know are most important for reading success.

      I hope this helps a little. I’d love it if you pass my blog on to those with younger children!
      Ali Posner

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