Just Imagine

The Butterfly Circus

Authored by Francesca Armour-Chelu
Published by Walker Books

Tansy and Belle are sisters, the wonder duo of the trapeze at the Butterfly Circus, until one night, Tansy performs a dangerous stunt and falls from the heights of the circus tent. Now invalided, not so much physically but emotionally scarred by the fear of falling, she gives up her career. When her sister disappears without notice from the circus, Tansy has to face her fears and set out to discover what has happened to her.

Self-confidence and disappointment, fear and courage are all themes central to The Butterfly Circus and they colour the exciting story with an intriguing and original tone. Tansy’s shadow, which ‘comes to life’ to drive her on in her almost impossible quest to overcome her fears, gently alludes to the famous shadow in Peter Pan, and it is the same sort of quiet melancholy which pervades the story. First it is the sadness of not being able to fulfill one’s dreams, the anger that one’s hopes have been snatched away too soon, then in the second half of the book there is the down-at-heel tawdriness of the seaside show, run by the villainous Mr Pickingill, all of his troupe desperate to perform but who have resorted to seedy tricks and inhumane standards. Throughout there are also some brilliant (and funny!) set pieces, involving caravan racing, a gigantic mechanical cat, and some dastardly baddies, to keep us cheering along with the thrill of the show.

Stories of the performing life are always a real treat for young readers, have never been in short supply, and are perennially adored – Ballet Shoes, The Swish of the Curtain and, more recently, The Company of Eight and The Steam Whistle Theatre Company are all testament to this. The Butterfly Circus, from the smell of the sawdust and the trumpeting of elephants to the roar of the crowd and the macabre machines of the end-of-the-pier show, has it all. It is beautifully done, contrasting the glamour of the stage with the turmoil of the inner life.

When Tansy meets Rosa, her shadow, for the first time, she asks, “Can they see you? Would they be scared?” and Rosa replies, “I think they see only what they expect to see. Except maybe small children. They haven’t learned what they expect to see so they still see everything.” Give a child this book to read – or read it to them – and it’s guaranteed to dazzle with the glitter and excitement of the dreams that might, just might, lie ahead…and to remind them, don’t be scared.