Going to the circus as a child was a real treat. I got to wear my best polo neck and flares, because it was the 70s. I was also allowed to eat candy floss and popcorn until I was sick of them. Today, our tastes have changed. There are less circuses, and hopefully less flares. It’s interesting then that it’s still used in stories. When I wrote the book The Girl Who Walked On Air, I used this book because it took my main character out of a normal C19th childhood, and put her in a new, weird world. This is why I chose it: Having a car means that she can move around. She can take risks and be free, too. And, of course, it put her in danger. Here are ten great books where writers use the circus to help them tell their own stories:
Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson
There will be a traveling circus called Tanglefield’s Traveling Circus when Hetty sees an elephant’s head over the top of the hedge. Her favorite person is Madame Adeline, who has “red hair just like mine.” So, her journey to find her real mother began. As a child, Hetty always dreamed of going to the circus. This story is a lot of fun, but it also makes you cry.
Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
A carpenter from Dorset named Thomas Kellaway moves to London with his family in 1792. He works for Astley’s Circus, where he makes props for the show. Astley’s “ampitheatre” is a huge red building with a lot of space for shows at night. But behind the scenes, we see a very different world that mirrors the unrest in society at large, and it looks very different.
Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones
Having a lot of hair all over him, Wild Boy is called a “savage spectacle.” Every night, he performs in a freak show. In the evening, he sees a murder and gets blamed for it. In Clarissa’s help, he goes out to clear his name. This is a fun story that shows circus life in all of its shady, Victorian glory. It’s a great way to learn about the circus.
Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
This part of the book is called “Troy touches his wife’s hand.” Sergeant Troy has been missing for six years. The circus is where he hides. Performs as Turpin on his horse, Black Bess. When he spots Bathsheba in the crowd one night, it looks just like how they met years ago.
For Love Of A Horse by Patricia Leitch
In Leitch’s novel, the circus is a place of cruelty and repression, which is what most people think. They whip the horses, and even the humans are “tired” and “shrill.” From it, Jinny saves Yasmin The Killer Horse, who over time becomes her best friend, Shantih, and they fall in love. As a child, I loved this book. It is the first book in a series that made me happy.
Josser by Nell Stroud
Story: This is a true story about what happened when Stroud ran away with the circus. Her stories of hardship and bullying are hard to read. They make you feel bad. Yet, it’s her love for horses and her respect for circus life that shines through the most in this story. This is a celebration of a culture that is going away.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
When the circus opens at nightfall, it closes when the sun comes up. This is a beautiful story about the circus. It’s an adventure, a history, and a love story all at the same time. It’s the kind of book that doesn’t fit into a single genre. It’s like a magical, mysterious place where anything can happen. The circus is full of beautiful details.
Pantomime by Laura Lam
Great YA book gives “running away to the circus” a new look. RH Ragona’s Circus of Magic is a great place for Micah Grey to hide when he runs away. It’s full of weirdos, outcasts, and hidden things. Yet, the circus has its own set of rules about how to act. Lam makes a tough, unforgiving world.
Mortlock by Jon Mayhew
Mayhew’s first book is a masterpiece, and it starts with him throwing knives. From then on, there is never any rest. People who have grown up in the circus think it’s a place of safety: it’s their home. Yet when she needs help, the circus she joins soon turns out to be a “circus of the dead.”
If I Ran the Circus by Dr. Seuss
Morris McGurk’s Circus McGurkus is a wild and wacky circus that isn’t like any other. This rhyming classic tells the story of how it came to be. Kids can use their imagination to make their own perfect circus in this fun book!
Hard Times by Charles Dickens
There are only facts that Mr. Gradgrind is interested in. When Sissy from Sleary’s Circus comes to his kids’ class, he asks her to leave right away. Her background in the circus makes her more “fancy” than “real.” Louisa and Tom Gradgrind, on the other hand, did not have a good education because it was not fun at all. Sissy, the circus girl, is the moral winner at the end of this story.
Harold’s Circus by Crockett Johnson
With the help of his purple crayon, Harold draws a tightrope. This leads him to a circus world. Read this book, then use your purple crayon to make a circus of your very own.
Peter Spier’s Circus by Peter Spier
This is a beautiful book that will make kids want to look at all of the illustrations to find all of Spier’s perfect parts. As a read-aloud, this book isn’t very good. Instead, it’s better for people who want to look around. This is what we did when we were together: We sat down on the couch and looked through the illustrations.