Roll up, roll up: 5 brilliant circus stories

Published on: 25 July 2018 Author: Juman Malouf

Juman Malouf's wonderful new book The Trilogy of Two is an enchanting story set in a circus, so we asked her to pick five more fantastic Big Top tales...

The Trilogy of Two

The big-top circus. A thing of the past, but a living memory. The glittery, exhuberant surface hides (not always successfully) a deeply melancholic interior. A great inspiration for many writers, and here are a few that inspired my own book, The Trilogy of Two:

1. Circus Girl by Jack Sendak, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Circus GirlA very beautiful union of words and pictures by the Sendak brothers. It's extremely simple: a little circus girl, Flora, has never left the circus. She is frightened of the 'outside people'. One night she ventures into a village and discovers the rest of the world.

2. Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Hard Times

Another child of the circus. This one is in stark contrast to the grim factories and row-houses of Coketown. Sissy is forced to live with a retired merchant and his family. He tries to drill facts into her, but fancy and imagination (i.e., the circus) are already deep in her psyche.

3. Lafcadio: The Lion that Shot Back by Shel Silverstein

Lafcadio: The Lion that Shot Back

The circus figures in several of Shel's poems (including Cloony the Clown, who never makes anyone laugh until he finally tells them about his failures and misery). In Lafcadio, a young lion is convinced to leave the jungle to become a Sharpshooter at the Finchfinger Circus. He becomes famous and forgets what he is. Then he goes on a hunting trip...

4. Madeline and the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans

Madeline and the Gypsies

Madeline and the son of the Spanish Ambassador, Pepito, are accidentally left behind at the circus. They end up travelling with the caravan and enjoy the freedom of nomadic life. This also tells the sad tale of the Gypsy Mama who sews the children into a lion costume so that they will never be found and will stay with her forever.

5. Black Jack by Leon Garfield

Black Jack

Young Bartholomew is abducted by the criminal Black Jack during his escape from London (and the gallows). They find their way into a travelling circus, and an unusual friendship forms and grows. When Bartholomew meets and rescues Belle, a young girl on her way to the madhouse, Black Jack is jealous. It's a story about friendship, love, and just being yourself.

Read our review of The Trilogy of Two

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