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Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite
James A. Bailey: The Genius Behind the Barnum & Bailey Circus by Gloria G. Adams, a children’s librarian, is a brief and fascinating biography of The Greatest Show on Earth’s co-founder. It is an inspiring rags-to-riches tale of a barefoot orphan’s rise to fame and wealth. It appears that P.T. Barnum is most famous in circus lore, but his fame was based upon the hard work and business acumen of a person who started by running away from the cops for swimming illegally in the Detroit River when he was thirteen-year-old Jimmy McGinnis. Ms. Adams presents Jimmy’s personal history, who later becomes James A. Bailey, a name he takes for his first circus mentor, Colonel Fred H. Bailey. Colonel Bailey recruited Jimmy from his hard work hanging circus posters in Pontiac, Michigan.
Step by step for middle and high schoolers, Gloria G. Adams traces Jimmy’s rise to fame and fortune in easy-to-read prose, but adults with an interest in the circus and nineteenth-century history will enjoy it too, as did I. For instance, I did not know about sutlers, merchants who followed Civil War battles to sell products to soldiers not available through the military. Jimmy learned business practices while working for one such sutler. The graphics of this book are splendid: posters, tickets, a sutler’s tent, a route book, and lists of circus slang like ducket, gaffer, Joey, pie-car, and roper, to name a few. From Bill and Agnes Lake’s Hippo Olympiad & Mammoth Circus to Cooper, Baily, and Company, to Barnum & Bailey, to the Greatest Show on Earth, and to Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, our barefoot orphan rose through the ranks as an example of how hard work and native intelligence can lead to unpredicted success. James A. Bailey by Gloria G. Adams is a magnificently presented biography that will inspire not only kids but adults.