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TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER: P.T. Barnum dazzled audiences with 'mermaids,' little people and a traveling circus

The first time you saw somebody working with lions and tigers, you knew that was what you wanted to do.

It was soooo cool. Those cats were roaring and showing their fangs. They seemed really angry, but they did exactly what the trainer wanted. They jumped, rolled, and growled. You could just see yourself being a tiger tamer someday.

But what if, instead, you owned the whole circus -- the clowns, the elephants, and those ferocious big cats? Find out more about one man who did in, "The Great and Only Barnum" by Candace Fleming, performed by Christopher Lane.

Born on July 5, 1810 in Bethel, Conn., Phineas Taylor Barnum (known as Tale to his family) entered into a "joke-loving" family. He grew to be a popular boy, learned to love money, and was always able to think of schemes to earn it. He had an open mind but a deep sense of spirituality, and he could deal with hardship: when he was barely a teenager, his father died and Taylor (his preferred name then) took a job in Brooklyn to support his mother and siblings.

But Brooklyn wasn't home, and there was a girl in Bethel with whom Taylor fell in love. He married in 1829 and became a father in 1833, but his daughter wasn't his only "baby": Taylor was a business owner himself by then.

When his daughter was not even a year old, Barnum (what he preferred as an adult) moved his family to New York City. There, he learned that people love to be tricked and that fortunes could be made with "a bit of good-natured deception."

His first "deception" was Joice Heth, a supposedly 161-year-old former slave whose exhibition proved to Barnum that controversy was profitable, too. After joining a circus and starting his own troupe, he bought a museum.

Barnum knew that to make big money, one must do big things, which is what he did with his new museum. He "dazzled" customers with color and light, music and exotic sights. There, they could see the Feejee Mermaid and General Tom Thumb. They could hear the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind. But when the museum burned to the ground in 1865, Barnum could no longer bear museum-owning. At age 61, he went into the circus business.

There's a lot going on in "The Great and Only Barnum," mostly because there was a lot going on in P.T. Barnum's life. Fleming gives young listeners plenty of time to digest, though, and she makes Barnum's life perfectly easy to grasp.

What really makes this audiobook appealing, however, is the bonus disc. Yes, the main part is something young circus fans will savor but the computer disc includes lots of back story, pictures, and things that kids won't learn from narrator Christopher Lane's performance. I loved this bonus disc so much, I watched it twice.

Meant for 10-to-13-year-olds, I think children both slightly younger and slightly older will also enjoy this audiobook. For them, "The Great and Only Barnum" is three rings of fun.

"The Great and Only Barnum," by Candace Fleming, performed by Christopher Lane, copyright 2011 by Brilliance Audio, is 3 CDs at 2 hours and 58 minutes and sells for $19.99.

Contact Terri Schlichenmeyer at www.bookwormsez.com.