If you’re looking for a Christmas present for the 8-14-year-old girl in your life, look no further than the Olivia books by Guardian theatre critic-turned-author Lyn Gardner.
Beginning with Olivia’s First Term, the six books follow the adventures of two circus girls - Olivia and her younger sister Eel - who are billeted at their grandmother’s London stage school while their dad Jack, the Great Marvello, busies himself with such stunts as walking a high-wire between the towers of Tower Bridge.
With a huge cast of characters, the books convey all the excitement of a school where students are daily called to auditions, appear in West End shows and pursue careers as pop singers.
There are plenty of circus stunts, too. The first book contains some grown-up insights into the incorporation of circus skills into traditional theatre as Olivia stages a scene from Romeo and Juliet on a tightrope. In Olivia’s Enchanted Summer, Jack and the girls take a big top to the Edinburgh Festival. Olivia and the Great Escape, focuses on Jack’s attempt to spend a record 30 days and nights on a tight-wire over the Thames.
On top of all this there are plenty of thrills as Olivia uses her tightrope skills to foil villains and rescue her pals from peril.
Thanks to Katherine Kavanagh’s blog thecircusdiaries.com which tipped me off to the existance of these books, I interviewed Gardner for a recent issue of Writers Forum (Issue #145) and heard how she came up with the series after spotting a gaggle of stage school girls on a tube train.
“They were talking about an audition where they’d all been up for the same part, and I was intrigued by the idea of your friends also being the people you’re competing with for jobs,” Gardner explained.
The author added, “One of the things I feel strongly about is that so many children are turned off of Shakespeare, so I wanted to write books in which Shakespeare is incredibly good fun.”
It strikes me that the Olivia books could also introduce a generation of readers to the idea that circus is good fun, too.
The Olivia books by Lyn Gardner are published by Nosy Crow.
For a more grown-up adventure in the big top, try The Showman’s Girl by Julia Douglas in which a girl runs away with the circus in the 1930s and finds herself in a world of perilous escapades, intense friendships and deep passions. Click here to download the ebook from Amazon and iTunes, or borrow the paperback from your local library.
click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.
Click here for 5 more Circus Books for Christmas