Circus of thieves – Sutcliffe & Tazziman

June book

This is a wonderful book for upper KS 2 about a “dastardly, devious, deceitful, dishonest, devilish plan” by a circus owner called Armitage Shank, who has cruel control over a camel rider called Billy. Fortunately Billy makes friends with Hannah who will help him outwit this cunning villian as could “hardly believe her ears. She was amazed. She was horrified. She was gobsmacked and flabbergasted and gobgasted and flabbergobbed.” I have lots of ideas about how to use the book as it works at lots of different levels. From the opening pages about the animals in the town hearing the arrival of a strange and wonderous circus we know that the writing will be clever and mischievous and keep the reader on their toes. First we meet Fluffypants McBain, the tabby cat from the Post Office and later Narcissus, the taramasalata-loving camel.  Sutcliffe’s writing is subtle and makes us think:

“Fizzer ought to have been an astronomer or a nuclear physicist or at the very least a university professor, but unfortunately these career paths hadn’t opened up to him, so he had to settle for being a dog.”

We meet larger than life circus performers, first in a jaw dropping procession and later through their show at the big top. Characters like  Irrrrrrrena, the Russian acrobat assistant drenched in olive oil and then Jesse, the human cannonball, who has vertigo, claustrophobia, terrible itchiness and general anxieties! But our heart reaches out for the two main protagonist Billy, the camel rider and Hannah a highly articulate, but sadly misplaced, child from the town. We are with them every step of the way as they try to outwit the cruel circus master.

The humour drips off the page and I love the clever footnotes and the going ‘under the bonnet’ as the Sutcliffe talks directly to the reader. For a debut novel it is belter.


It is  illustrated by David Tazzyman (who has brought Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum character to life) who brings a real anarchic flavour to the text:

I am going to be using it for making circus posters to advertise this stunning troupe of intrepid performers, creating new characters to join the big top, writing dialogue and even writing in role as the camel Narcissus. You can teach all aspects of  SPAG through this text as it is rich in different sentence types, has some fantastic word play and changes its register to talk to the reader.