The best circus story books for readers of age 8+

Why am I passionate about this?

I remember reading Enid Blyton’s Mr. Galliano’s Circus as a child and was fascinated more by the idea of circus life than the actual performance aspect. I still adore watching high-quality circus feats performed by acrobats and love that frisson of excitement as everyone shuffles into their seats just before showtime. When I began writing children’s books, my aim was to give the child characters room to develop resilience and courage while encountering danger and adventure without the presence of adults. In order to do this, I had to somehow remove parental figures. Running away is the perfect literary device to achieve this which is how Glass Dreams came about.


I wrote...

Glass Dreams

By Helen Laycock,

Book cover of Glass Dreams

What is my book about?

Glass Dreams is a circus mystery where all is not as it seems…Jake’s life suddenly unravels when his grandma dies. His foster carers are wonderful, but this is only a temporary arrangement. When he is then placed in an orphanage where everyone seems to hate him, running away seems to be the only option… 

He finds shelter in the middle of the night in the form of an old caravan in the woods,  and it’s there he meets Khala, an acrobat from the travelling circus, who persuades him to join her. Running away to the circus seems so exciting, until he realises the danger he has got himself into, but the discovery he makes at the end is utterly unimaginable and worth every ounce of peril.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Mr. Nobody's Eyes

Helen Laycock Why did I love this book?

I’m a sucker for anything about chimps!

Set in post-war England, this charming story focuses on the relationship between 10-year-old Henry and Ocky, a mischievous chimpanzee he ‘accidentally’ steals from Mr Nobody at Blondini’s Circus.

After trouble at school and at home, and with the threat of having his secret friend discovered, Harry runs away with Ocky. Following a series of adventures, ending with a perilous situation at the seaside, Harry realises that not only is Ocky precious to Mr Nobody, but he is precious to his family too.

By Michael Morpurgo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mr. Nobody's Eyes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A tale of fun and friendship from former Children's Laureate and author of War Horse, Michael Morpurgo.

Harry heard the key turn in the lock. He had already made up his mind to run.

Harry is in trouble at school, and doesn't like his stepfather or the new baby. Then he befriends Ocky, a chimpanzee from the circus. Ocky's owner won't mind if Harry borrows her for a bit, will he?

But then Harry's stepfather and the police find out. Harry and the chimp are soon on the run!

A gripping and poignant animal adventure from the master storyteller of…


Book cover of Circus of Thieves on the Rampage, 2

Helen Laycock Why did I love this book?

Who doesn’t enjoy a fast-paced caper?

This story is full of quirky illustrations, colourful characters, and funny footnotes. Often conversational, Sutcliffe frequently addresses the reader as he relays the shenanigans leading up to circus legend and aerialist supreme, Quennie Bombazine’s cunning plan to catch her nemesis, Armitage Shanks, while at the same time reuniting Hannah and Billy with their circus father.

I would say that for reluctant readers who enjoy visual prompts and more of a comic-style format, this would be perfect.

By William Sutcliffe, David Tazzyman (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Circus of Thieves on the Rampage, 2 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

'Utterly madcap adventure of sabotage and adventure... wonderfully supported by equally crazy illustrations... nothing short of hilarious' The Guardian

'Funny, Bizarre and brilliantly illustrated by David Tazzyman, this is perfect for anyone who loves Mr Gum' Sunday Express on Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom

Get ready for rampages, chunky tandem rides, marching dogs, escaped convicts, synchronised otters and so much more! Shank's Impossible Circus is back...

There are 7,362 things that Armitage Shank hates and at the top of the list (which includes puppies, rainbows, lifts and flashing trainers...) is being made a fool of. So, when…


Book cover of Circus Shoes

Helen Laycock Why did I love this book?

I read that Noel Streatfeild actually spent time with a travelling circus to achieve authenticity in this story. Well, you can almost smell the greasepaint and sawdust.

Rather than being sent to separate orphanages, sheltered siblings Santa and Peter run away to Cob’s Circus where their Uncle Gus performs on the trapeze. Peter learns to ride and to understand animals, and Santa learns to tumble, but they need to persuade their uncle to like them and decide to keep them. Though old-fashioned, this tale is vivid with colour and spectacle, and the atmosphere so well-captured.

By Noel Streatfeild,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Circus Shoes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When their snobbish Aunt Rebecca dies, leaving them alone and penniless, Peter and Santa are faced with the dreadful prospect of life in separate orphanages. Desperate, they run away to find their only living relative - Uncle Gus - who works in a circus.



But Gus doesn't suffer fools gladly. To fit into his world, Peter and Santa must work harder than they've ever done in their lives.


Book cover of Olivia Flies High

Helen Laycock Why did I love this book?

Written with incredible accuracy of detail and stage terms, this story gives a real insight into stage school life.

Olivia and her younger sister, Eel, the daughters of an actress and circus performer, are now at Swan Stage School, owned by their grandmother, Alicia. Alicia eventually agrees to add circus skills to the curriculum which proves to be very useful when a child is in danger, albeit one who has caused no end of trouble for her counterparts.

By Lyn Gardner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Olivia Flies High as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Olivia has been invited to New York to perform her innovative Shakespeare on the highwire! She's thrilled and can't wait to tell her friends. But they have news of their own, news which devastates Olivia and leads to a terrible rift.


Book cover of Diamond

Helen Laycock Why did I love this book?

This book is part of the Hetty Feather collection, perfect for fans of this feisty Victorian heroine.

Recounted by ‘Diamond’ (formerly Ellen-Jane), the child acrobatic wonder, this is a story about running away FROM the circus. Bought for five guineas by cruel clown Beppo, Diamond is forced to become part of the Silver Brothers’ tumbling act at Tanglefield’s Travelling Circus. Although competent, she is mistreated and unhappy, but when Hetty Feather joins the circus as ringmaster ‘Emerald’, things begin to change…

By Jacqueline Wilson, Nick Sharratt (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Diamond as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Diamond wasn't always a star. Born to penniless parents who longed for a strong, healthy son, she was a dainty, delicate daughter - and a bitter disappointment.

Discovering an extraordinary gift for acrobatics, Diamond uses her talent to earn a few pennies, but brings shame on her family. When a mysterious, cruel-eyed stranger spots her performing, Diamond is sold - and is taken to become an acrobat at Tanglefield's Travelling Circus.

The crowds adore Diamond, but life behind the velvet curtains is far from glamorous. Her wicked master forces Diamond to attempt ever more daring tricks, until she is terrified…


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Book cover of This Animal Body

Meredith Walters

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

To prove she’s sane, Frankie investigates her forgotten past and conducts clandestine experiments. But just when she uncovers the truth, she has to make an impossible choice: betray the animals she’s fallen in love with—or give up her last chance at success and everything she thought she knew.

By Meredith Walters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Animal Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frankie Conner, first-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, is finally getting her life together. After multiple failures and several false starts, she's found her calling: become a neuroscientist, discover the cause of her depression and anxiety, and hopefully find a cure for herself and everyone like her.

But her first day of the program, Frankie meets a mysterious group of talking animals who claim to have an urgent message for her. The problem is, they're not willing to share it. Not yet. Not until she's ready.

While Frankie's new friends may not have her highly evolved, state-of-the-art, exalted human brain,…


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Interested in the circus, chimpanzees, and World War 1?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the circus, chimpanzees, and World War 1.

The Circus Explore 33 books about the circus
Chimpanzees Explore 18 books about chimpanzees
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