Nell and the Circus of Dreams

Authored by Neil Gifford
Illustrated by Briony May Smith
Published by Oxford University Press

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‘That summer Nell’s mother was so ill that she did not get out of bed‘. The opening to the book immediately sends the reader into the realm of wonder. How old is Nell? What is wrong with her mother? What will Nell do while her mother is bed bound?

The loneliness is interrupted with the discovery of a little bantam, Rosebud. Rosebud then serves to act as Nell’s ‘white rabbit’ taking her on her voyage and return journey where she discovers the beauty and magic of the circus on the way.

The narrative is very sensory, made vivid by Briony May Smith’s stunning illustrations. The book explores so many important and provoking themes: loneliness, loss, friendship, diversity, traditions, family. The images from the circus episode are stunning and exciting and would transport any young reader into a world of adventure and intrigue.

Most exciting is the semi-autobiographical element to the book. Nell Gifford is the creator of Gifford’s circus, and as a teacher, this could be thrilling to explore with any early years or infant class. The author’s journey overcoming adversity and fulfilling her dreams is inspirational. The book is a must for any classroom where developing resilience, character and grit are valued. And, of course, helping children escape into the magical world of performance has its own delight. Greatest Showman step aside!