The best circus books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about the circus and why they recommend each book.

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A Spark of Justice

By J.D. Hawkins,

Book cover of A Spark of Justice

This one's a fast-moving mystery story that takes you behind the scenes of the circus! An insurance investigator, John Nieves, has to determine whether a lion tamer's death was an accident or murder, but the circus people play practical jokes on him, especially after they discover he has a childhood fear of clowns! The big cats feature in this but are well treated and John develops an affinity with a panther who had been refusing to eat. This one has tension, suspense, and a lot of laughs along with the glamour of the circus!


Who am I?

I read broadly across many genres and know what it's like to get stuck in a rut and need to find something different to keep my interest. The books I've suggested all have a broad appeal and any one of them could break the dreaded slump. Even those that fall into a genre you don't normally read are likely to draw you into their own special magic.


I wrote...

Force of Chaos: The Coming of Age of the Antichrist

By Lin Senchaid,

Book cover of Force of Chaos: The Coming of Age of the Antichrist

What is my book about?

Lucas doesn't want to grow up to be like his father. What teenager does? But for Lucas it's not the same because his father is the devil himself and Lucifer expects his incarnated son to embrace his destiny. A California high school is the perfect environment for an adolescent boy to seek friends, rather than followers, but what teenager could resist using his powers?

Circus of Thieves on the Rampage, 2

By William Sutcliffe, David Tazzyman (illustrator),

Book cover of Circus of Thieves on the Rampage, 2

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.


Who am I?

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.

Circus Shoes

By Noel Streatfeild,

Book cover of Circus Shoes

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.


Who am I?

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.

Diamond

By Jacqueline Wilson, Nick Sharratt (illustrator),

Book cover of Diamond

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…


Who am I?

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.

Water for Elephants

By Sara Gruen,

Book cover of Water for Elephants

When I browse my bookshelves for recommendations, this one always stands out as one with a memorable story but also for the author’s gorgeous grammar.

In 1932 during the Great Depression, Jacob Jankowski hits a rough patch. Not yet finished with veterinary school, he’s suddenly orphaned and penniless. When he jumps on a train, Jacob is catapulted into a foreign world of misfits and freaks. The traveling circus is filled with beauties, brutal taskmasters, and animals that need his help. In spite of odds conspiring against him, Jacob discovers love in this unlikely time and place. Will he do what it takes to hold onto it?


Who am I?

My first driving research passion was Dracula! What aspects of decomposition birthed stories of the undead? How did the Transylvanian Impaler become the romantic blood-sucking Hollywood icon? A fascination with time travel and geocaching worked their way into my Haylee series, as did the California Gold Rush, abandoned ships in San Francisco harbor, downtown streets with quicksand-like mud, and the great fires when most buildings were constructed of wood. A minor Chinese character in the Haylee books has become a ghost riding on my shoulder. He's been driving my current work in progress, a Donner Summit historical novel centered around Chinese railroad workers.


I wrote...

Phases of Gage: After the Accident Years

By Lisa Redfern,

Book cover of Phases of Gage: After the Accident Years

What is my book about?

In 1848, an accidental explosion shoots a thirteen-pound iron rod through the head of a twenty-five-year-old construction foreman. Hurled to the ground, Phineas Gage convulses but remains conscious. He says he doesn’t feel pain. 

One of the ‘great’ medical curiosities of all time, Phineas’s injury may have been the first case to link brain studies with human personality. Many of our scientific assumptions and pop culture folklore are based on a faulty study written, years after his death, by the doctor who treated him. This work of fiction incorporates the known facts of this case (at the time of writing) and brings contemporary emotional qualities to the people who experienced a family tragedy and learned to live with a traumatic brain injury.

The Toymaker

By Jeremy de Quidt,

Book cover of The Toymaker

I just don’t know why this book isn’t talked about more. It’s so brooding and brilliant and horrifying. Heavily influenced by Philip Pullman’s masterful Clockwork (there’s sinister automata, and creepy clockmakers, and a snow-bound Germanic feel), it contains one of the most awful and terrifying antagonists in all of children’s literature. Nasty and enchanting — the very darkest and grimmest of tales.


Who am I?

I grew up in featureless suburbia, where the streets of identical bungalows seemed scrubbed of anything miraculous. Maybe that’s why I came to be fascinated, as a kid, with the idea of tiny things. Here was magic that might exist in my backyard: miniature people trooping through lawns as if they were forests, riding ladybugs, and carrying bramblethorn spears! These daydreams formed some of the first stories I wrote, as a child. And they’ve continued to fascinate me as a reader, and a writer, ever since. I’ve tried to pick stories that might have slipped out of sight amongst ‘bigger’ brethren like The Burrowers and Gulliver’s Travels. I hope you enjoy them!


I wrote...

Lilliput

By Sam Gayton, Alice Ratterree (illustrator),

Book cover of Lilliput

What is my book about?

Her name is Lily. She is a girl three inches tall, her clothes stitched from spider-silk, her eyes like dewdrops. For half her life, she’s been imprisoned in a gilded birdcage by the giant Gulliver. Only dimly does she remember the island that was home, where everything was small. 

Gulliver intends to show her to London, just as soon as he finishes the book of his travels. But Lily doesn’t have time to wait around. Time passes for small folk faster than it does for big ones. She has to get away, before it’s too late. She has to go home to Lilliput.

The Circus of Dr. Lao

By Charles G. Finney,

Book cover of The Circus of Dr. Lao

The earliest publication date of this collection goes all the way back to 1935. A strange circus comes to town, with the performers consisting of creatures who talk less about circusy things than they do about philosophy and some strangely specific moralizing. Those thought-provoking aspects are what stick in my mind now. What first drew me to the story was the mystery of the circus itself, and the wonderfully creative creatures inside of it. 


Who am I?

I’ve always been drawn to the dark, mysterious, and weird. Originally influenced by science fiction and fantasy, then later by mysteries, suspense, thrillers, and horror, I loved the mental visuals and excitement of being in extreme, reality-bending situations. Combine these aspects, and that’s why I told my own story with these same themes: In Tents is my homage to small-town culture… twisted into a darker reality. 


I wrote...

In Tents

By Andy Kaiser,

Book cover of In Tents

What is my book about?

Dario may not have his life figured out, but at least he has a job, a cell phone, and friends who care about him. That’s enough, until the circus comes to town. Soon after, a bloody attack puts his friend in the hospital and Dario begins to hunt for whoever is responsible. As he investigates, Dario is pulled toward the dangerous and violent circus, its strange people, and the dark rumors of “Frank’s Show.” But the more he unravels the mystery, the more he realizes he must escape it all… before it kills him.

Nights at the Circus

By Angela Carter,

Book cover of Nights at the Circus

Oh Fevvers - "Lor love you!" The opening words of this book chime in my heart like the bow bells. Sophie Fevvers, trapeze artist, Cockney Venus - face like a ‘meat dish,’ Fevvers who keeps her champagne in a cracked toilet bowl, on discarded fish ice from Billingsgate market. As the protagonist in Angela Carter’s magical realist masterpiece, Nights at the Circus, Fevvers lives and breathes London. London is in her nails and her hair, her bum, her voice, her attitude, and most of all in her history – she was hatched from an egg in a London brothel. Fevvers is the ultimate London heroine, shaped by the city’s grime, beauty, vulgarity, and kindness, and she carries London with her even when in the furthest reaches of Siberia. This is one of those books driven like a steam train by its central character, and I still remember where I…


Who am I?

This eclectic soiree of books is pretty symbolic of my reading taste – as long as it’s extraordinary, or larger than real life, I’m there for it. I moved to London when I was 22, to undertake my Masters at Shakespeare’s Globe, and after living in a small village, followed by a small university town, it really did feel like arriving at the centre of the universe. I love books that capture the way the spirit of London – its strange, anarchic, punkish, dangerous, and historic forms – can shape a woman into the person she is meant to be. That was what I wanted to capture with The Hourglass Factory’s heroine Frankie George. 


I wrote...

The Hourglass Factory

By Lucy Ribchester,

Book cover of The Hourglass Factory

What is my book about?

The suffragette movement is reaching fever pitch but for broke Fleet Street tomboy Frankie George, just getting by in the cut-throat world of newspapers is hard enough. Sent to interview trapeze artist Ebony Diamond, Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly laced acrobat and follows her across London to a Mayfair corset shop that hides more than one dark secret.

When Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, Frankie is drawn into a world of tricks, society columnists, corset fetishists, suffragettes and circus freaks. How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory?

Geek Love

By Katherine Dunn,

Book cover of Geek Love

This one is a bit of a stretch but hear me out: This is one of my all-time favorite books. It is a twisted story of a circus family and their experiences with racism, sexism, cults, body dysmorphia, and many other issues. One (or two) of the main characters is a set of Siamese twins, joined at the hip, who play the piano with four hands as part of their circus act. The book isn’t explicitly about music, but music plays into the epic and amazing story about equality. 


Who am I?

When you get a PhD in music, you end up with a lot of music books. Like, hundreds of them. At the end of every semester I could never bring myself to sell my textbooks because I just love books. Over the years I’ve continued to collect books about music, and books about everything. I’m happy that now a few have my name on the spine. 


I wrote...

Music Theory for Electronic Music Producers: The producer's guide to harmony, chord progressions, and song structure in the MIDI grid.

By J. Anthony Allen,

Book cover of Music Theory for Electronic Music Producers: The producer's guide to harmony, chord progressions, and song structure in the MIDI grid.

What is my book about?

As an online and university class, Dr. Allen has had over 50,000 students use this ground-breaking curriculum to learn music theory. Students and Producers who have wanted to learn music theory to improve their own music, but have been intimidated by traditional approaches, music notation, and abstract concepts will find this book to be the answer they have been looking for.

From the Author: “How music theory is usually taught is unfair. It starts with the assumption that you can read music and understand the language of classical music. My book leaves all of that behind – focusing only on the MIDI grid that producers are already familiar with to learn all the key concepts of music theory, and ultimately, make better music.”

Olivia Flies High

By Lyn Gardner,

Book cover of Olivia Flies High

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.


Who am I?

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.

Or, view all 23 books about the circus

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