Like many book loving teachers out there, I am always on the lookout for the next awesome children’s book that has hit the shelves. Discovering and sharing a new book with like-minded folk is, and always has been, such a brilliant thing to do.
The way that we interpret texts in subtly different ways is always super fascinating to me (being a small part of the Twitter hashtag #SummerEngines about the Mortal Engine books this summer is a prime example) and often leads to a deeper insight.
In many ways it does feel like that at the moment we are living in and enjoying something of a golden age of children’s books with so many great titles coming out. Just Google the top children’s books for this year and see the quality on offer. You’ll soon see what I mean.
But, despite all this, I have had the nagging feeling for quite some time now that in the rush to – and quite rightly so – embrace new books and new talent we are in danger of forgetting the immense wealth of titles that have come before. We are in danger of overlooking some texts that are just so rich and vital that to do so is almost criminal.
So, my mission is this; to select and celebrate books of yore. Books that may have once been dearly cherished but are now at risk of being pushed aside. So, with that aim in mind I would like to kick-start this paperbound revival with the fiercely remarkable, the unabashedly macabre Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan.
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of this book. And with good reason. If you are looking for a text that will hook and engage individual reluctant readers or even more rowdy non-literary classes, then this is the book for you. Short chapters. Cliff-hangers galore. The underlying – though in reality quite tame – sense of dread that permeates throughout keeps every class I’ve ever used it with captivated.
Just read the prologue aloud to your class (I do this with the lights off and the blinds down) and I can guarantee you’ll have them in the palm of your hand.
The story – claimed to be a true and celebrating its 18th birthday this year – centres around the main character, Darren Shan, and his group of school friends. The story gets going early doors when one of the friends brings into school an admission ticket stolen from a big brother’s jacket pocket for the Cirque du Freak a banned freak show.
The allure of this seductively dangerous, night-time event is too much of a temptation for the boys who beg, steal and borrow enough money to raise the price of tickets for them all to go.
I am not going to go into any further details about the plot here though apart from that the rest of the tale is structured around the build up to the show, the actual show itself and the revelation of the ‘freaks’ then the fallout after… which had my class gasping and covering their eyes and mouths in shocked delight. It’s a page turner.
It is a thriller and horror-lite suitable for UKS2. It ramps up the tension and shocks to the point where your greatest problem will be the disappointment in your classroom when you close the book.
I’m not going to un-pick here whether or not its subject matter – vampires, ghouls and death – is suitable for primary children (I think it is and the hugely positive feedback from children and parents backs this up) as I would suggest any teacher wanting to read this with a class would be advised to read it themselves first as to best gauge its appropriateness for their children.
Cirque du Freak is a hard-to-put-down, gothic, helter-skelter of a read that is ideal for those Autumnal school afternoons when the days are shortening and the irresistible lure of Halloween is just around the corner.