The Tzar’s Curious Runaways has unusual protagonists that are all members of Peter the Great’s circus troupe.
“When a giant, a dwarf and a girl with a hunched back walk down the street together it will cause a stir. People stare.”
Nikolai the Dwarf, Alexei the Giant and Katinka, a talented dancer born with a hunched back, are all used to facing hardship. But when Peter dies, they fear for their lives and escape across the Russian Steppe towards Katinka’s home in the Ural mountains. Together they must fight against wolves, blizzards, hunger and the prejudice from the people they meet, who see them only as ‘different’.
They follow a map made by the Tzar’s mysterious librarian… or could he be a wizard, as Nikolai suspects? His map certainly seems to have some strange properties…
This book is a wonderful blend of factual research and magical adventure. Children will be fascinated, and upset, to learn about the Tzar’s ‘Circus of Curiosities’, and confront the attitudes towards disability of the time. The three characters are always presented as much more than their outward appearance. How they are, is of little concern to them, apart from when it affects others treatment of them. They form a tight bond and become like a little family as they travel together. They learn to rely on their individual strengths and to support one another’s weaknesses.
The Tzar’s Curious Runaways would make a great class novel, or an independent read for Upper KS2, especially for fans of Sophie Anderson and Abi Elphinstone. It is atmospheric, and the blend of fact and fiction works well. The overarching message of being loved and accepted for oneself is a universal one.
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