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The Curious Corner reads

Roll up Roll up!!


Using the Dr. Seuss book ‘If I ran the Circus’ as a literary segue children will play with words and stories.


'Steam punk is a genre which originated during the 1980s and early 1990s and incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used—whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or "Wild West"-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time —that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy.'

Shaun Tan is an Australian steampunk maestro and his 'Odditoreum' exhibition presents an opportunity to engage children in an exploration of the aesthetics, language and historical context of the genre.

Roll up Roll up!! Aims to engage children in the:-

Key Concepts

Key Language

Steampunk, fantasy, illustrator, imagination, Circus, Storytelling.

Activity Steps

Step 1: Invite children to participate in the activity

Who has seen the Odditoreum exhibition? What strange things did you see?

The exhibition was created by an Australian author and illustrator called Shaun Tan. Mr Tan loves to imagine strange worlds full of odd creatures (The Lost Thing, The Red Tree, The Rabbits, The Arrival). In the world of books, this is called steam punk or fairy tales, or fantasy.

You can visit wondrous steam punk worlds in movies like 'Up' and in books, like the book I am going to read for you shortly. You can also make up your own steam punk world and after I have read the story I will show you how you can make your own steam punk book.

Step 2: Introduction to 'If I Ran The Circus'

Here is the book I am going to read.

Examples of useful questions and conversation you could include:

Who can tell me what it is called?

Can you tell me who wrote the book?

Do you know any other Dr Seuss books?

This book is about a little boy called Morris McGurk who dreams of having the most fabulous circus ever. Well Morris McGurk dreams of a circus with the most daring tricks and the oddest animals Dr Seuss could imagine.

What do you see when you go to the circus?

Reading 'If I Ran The Circus'

Read an edited text of If I Ran The Circus (key pages that emphasise the narrative and the world of daring tricks and odd animals).

Examples of further questions you could include:

What was the most daring trick?

Who performed it?

Step 4: Steampunk Animal

Ask for two favourite animals? (e.g. kangaroo, snake)

What would you call a cross between them? (e.g. a kangarake).

What would it look like, how would it behave?

Where do you think this animal would live?

Can you show me how you think this animal might move?

Step 5: Exploring Rhyme

In Dr Seuss's book there are a lot of rhyming words (revisit If I Ran The Circus to illustrate).

What rhymes with our animal? (e.g.kangarake - cake, shake, stake, rake, take, Jake).

How could we use some of these rhymes in our story?

Improvise a short narrative about how this action might become a spectacular circus performance. For example:-

The Kangarake, no fool or no fake, burst out of the cake with a shimmy and shake. Then Jake Kangarake, the kangaroo snake, on the tip of her nose, she balanced a rake etc.

You might like to encourage the children you are engaging with to act out these above 3 actions with you.

Step 6: Make a Book

Using the SLQ template to demonstrate how to make a book out of a single piece of paper.

Explain that the book has: a front cover for a picture and the authors name; three pages for the story; a back cover.

Distribute templates and guide the children, assisted by carers, through the process of folding. Please refer to links for template.

Step 7: Create Your Own Steam Punk or Fantasy Story

Encourage children and adults to go to the craft bench and use the variety of materials to make their own steam punk/ circus/ Fantasy stories using the front cover/beginning/middle/end/back cover story telling format.

If you have access to a photocopier you could inform them that, if they chose, you will 'publish' their book by photocopying it and including the copy in your personal book collection or library collection.

'Make A Book' Cover examples

make a book cover examples

Inside page example 1

Inside page example 1

Inside page example 2

inside page example 2


The above sequence of activities is flexible depending on the group of children you are engaging with. For example, you may wish to run all of these experiences sequentially for a deeper learning experience however, if you are working with children who have a limited attention span you may wish to select just a few of the activity steps.

Useful Links

Insert link to Corner Make your own book activity

The Odditoreum at SLQ

Shaun Tan Artist Page

Interview with Shaun Tan about his work  


Last updated: 16th July 2013

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