The Center for Children's Books


Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Under the Big Top: Books About the Circus - October 2011

Selected and annotated by Anna Holland


Berkeley, Jon. The Palace of Laughter: The Wednesday Tales No. 1. Illus. by Brandon Dorman. Andrews/HarperCollins, 2006. 427p. Gr. 5-8.
Miles Wednesday is an orphan content to live in a barrel and only wanting a friend. He finds his life changed forever when the Circus Oscuro comes to town. There he meets an unusual performer with wings, a girl named Little. Together Miles and Little embark on a terrifying and beautiful adventure to rescue two friends from the Palace of Laughter.  

Breccia, Carlyn. Who Put the B in the Ballyhoo? Houghton, 2007. 32p. Gr. 3-6.
An A-Z rhyming book about the most famous circus sideshow acts of all time. Colorful, informative, and freakishly fun!   

Cummins, Julie. Women Daredevils: Thrills, Chills, and Frills. Illus. by Cheryl Harness. Dutton, 2008. 48p. Gr. 3-6.
Cummins profiles the amazing and daring stunts of fourteen women performers from 1880 to 1929. Complete with poster-like illustrations and stunt explanations, Cummins sorts the fact from the legend in brief sketches of some of the big-top’s most wondrous women performers.

De Guzman, Michael. Henrietta Hornbuckle’s Circus of Life. Farrar, 2010. 160p. Gr. 5-8.
Comedy and tears collide in twelve-year-old Henrietta Hornbuckle’s life. Like her parents, she is a clown in a small traveling clown circus. When family tragedy takes the life of her father, MoMo, young Henrietta is struck with grief, hope, and the honest realization that the show must go on.      

Dunning, John Harris. Salem Brownstone: All Along the Watchtowers. Candlewick Press, 2010.  96p. Gr. 10 and up.
A gothic and sophisticated graphic novel about a young man who inherits his father’s estate, only to discover an unfinished battle with supernatural creatures comes with the bargain. Realizing he needs help, Salem Brownstone solicits assistance from the unusual cast of performers of Dr. Kinoshita’s Circus of Unearthly Delights.    

Finn, Mary. Belladonna. Candlewick Press, 2011. 367p. Gr. 6-9.
Meet Thomas, a fourteen-year-old reluctant to take up his father’s trade as a wheelwright in eighteenth-century England. Meet Ling, a beautiful once-member of the traveling circus. Chance brings the two together in search of Belladonna, Ling’s beloved circus horse.  

Fleming, Candace. The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum. Illus. by Ray Fenwick. Schwartz & Wade, 2009. 151p. Gr. 5-8.
Discover the colorful and great career of Phineas Taylor (Tale) Barnum, showman and founder of Barnum & Bailey Circus. With an honest look at the career, family life, falls, and fortunes of the Circus’s most extraordinary businessman, Fleming provides a detailed account of Barnum’s life.

Klise, Kate. Stand Straight, Ella Kate: The True Story of a Real Giant. Illus. by M. Sarah Klise. Dial, 2010. 32p. 5-8yrs.
Ella Kate Ewing started out like everybody else, but then she grew to be eight foot tall. She was only seventeen. Embarrassed, Ella’s mother encourages her to stand straight and be proud. She eventually embraces her differences and realizes her height holds the potential to earn a substantial income by traveling with exhibition tours. 

Langton, Jane. The Mysterious Circus. HarperCollins Publishers, 2005. 224p. Gr. 4-6.
The Hall family’s world is anything but ordinary. When a family friend shows up on the doorstop, he encourages the children to form a mysterious circus to entertain the townsfolk.

Mack, Tracy. Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars: The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas. Orchard/Scholastic, 2006. 259p. Gr. 4-7.
Unable to penetrate all the hidden corners of the circus, Sherlock Holmes employs the assistance of the young Baker Street Irregulars. Who is behind the shocking murder of the Amazing Zalindas? How can an entire family plunge to their death from atop the high wire?

Prince, April Jones. Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing. Illus. by François Roca. Houghton, 2005. 32p. 5-9 yrs.
The newly completed Brooklyn Bridge fills New Yorkers with wonder and skepticism. Will the bridge actually be able to bear a load? P.T. Barnum seizes the change to capitalize on the uncertainty by parading his twenty-one elephants across the bridge to demonstrate its safety. 

Railsback, Lisa. Betti on the High Wire. Dial, 2010. 288p. Gr. 5-7.
The only home Babo has known is the abandoned circus camp in her war-torn country. There she is a storyteller of the circus glory days and a parent to the camp of parentless children. But when an American couple adopts Babo and changes her name to Betti, the young protagonist must discover a new meaning of home.

Schubert, Leda. Ballet of the Elephants. Illus. by Robert Andrew Parker.Brodie/Roaring Brook, 2006. 32p. Gr. 2-4.
Do elephants dance? Absolutely! Read the marvelous and true story behind Circus Polka– choreographed by George Balanchine, composed by Igor Stravinsky, and performed by 50 elephants and 50 prima ballerinas in 1942.

Somerville, Mass. Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical. Candlewick Press, 2009. 240p. Gr. 8-10.
Somerville compiles a collection of ten short tales of modern-day sideshow monsters and circus freaks of every sort. Explore the spectacle, mystery, horror and community of sideshow acts. With a mix of graphic novels, story length and traditional narration this short anthology provides appeal to various readers.

Stone, Tanya Lee. Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder. Viking, 2008.
Alexander “Sandy” Calder is an unusual artist: he makes movable wire figures and metal sculptures. One of his first creations was a magnificent and wondrous circus he called Cirque Calder.   

Wright, Johanna. The Secret Circus. Porter/Roaring Brook, 2009. 32p. 4-6yrs.
Each sundown announces the beginning of a tiny mouse circus held under a Paris carousel. But don’t tell anyone; it’s a secret only the mice know!


Top