The Circus is Coming was first published in 1938. The
US edition (1939) was entitled Circus Shoes. It is now
available in the UK as Circus Shoes, but is out of print
in the US.
Story | Connections
to Other Books | Background
| Awards | Thoughts
| Editions and Availability
The Circus is Coming tells the story of a brother and
sister, Peter and Santa, who have been brought up by their Aunt
Rebecca. When Peter is twelve and Santa eleven, their aunt dies,
and there are plans to send them to orphanages. Peter and Santa
do not want to be separated, so they run away to their only other
relative - Uncle Gus, who works for a Cobb's Circus.
Due to the somewhat strange way they have been brought up by
their aunt, Peter and Santa are both very naive, and also rather
unyielding in their views of the world. During the summer they
spend travelling with the circus, they mature, and find places
for themselves within the circus community.
Connections to Other
The Circus is Coming/Circus Shoes has no connections
to the other "shoes" books.
However, in The Children on the
Top Floor, Thomas visits Cob's Circus. Although he does
not meet any of the performers personally, we learn that the circus
still has many of the same acts: the Elgins, Maxim Petoff's Liberty
Horses, Schmidt's Sea-Lions, Kundra's Elephants and The Whirlwinds.
(At the end of The Circus is Coming, we were told that
the Elgins had finished their contract with Mr Cob, and they were
going to Paris, and then America. After the Second World War,
they must have returned to England, and rejoined Cob's Circus.)
After completing Tennis Shoes,
Noel spent a holiday in America. When she returned, Mabel Carey
(of J. M. Dent & Sons) suggested that her next book could
be about a circus. Although there is no evidence, it seems not
unlikely that the idea may have been sparked by Noel's creation
of Annie, the trapeze artist/cook in Tennis
Shoes. To prepare for the book, Mabel arranged for Noel
and Stephen Spurrier (who was to illustrate it) to travel with
Bertram Mills circus.
Having gathered her material, Noel decided to travel on a slow
cargo boat to California, and write on the journey. She remained
in America for seven months, during which time she completed The
Circus is Coming. In spite of her tour, Noel found there were
still many gaps in her knowledge, so she decided to write the
book from the perspective of two characters who were also ignorant
about the circus world.
The Circus is Coming was released for Christmas 1938,
and "[m]ost reviewers praised it warmly" (Bull,
1984:153). There were, however, some dissident opinions: the Time
and Tide reviewer thoroughly disliked Peter and Santa, wishing
that Noel had "killed them off, instead of trailing them
through the book and nearly spoiling her excellent material"
(quoted in Bull, 1984:152).
1938 - Carnegie
1948 - Listed by the Library Association as one of a number of
"books which should always be in print".
Fundamentally, The Circus is Coming is about personal
growth: as a result of their experiences, Peter and Santa change
and become nicer people. This is not one of Noel's common themes
in her children's writing - the only other novel in which it is
central is The Growing Summer.
(It is present, but not the major driving force, in The
Painted Garden, and, to a lesser degree, Gemma.)
Even more than Nicky of Tennis
Shoes, Peter and Santa are not the typical hero/heroine
of children's books of the 1930s. Angela
Bull feels that "Peter in particular is a most subtly
developed character" and that Noel makes the children's progress
"absolutely convincing, demonstrating, as she did with Nicky,
that heroes and heroines can be carved from the most unpromising
materials" (1984:152). Bull is also very impressed by the
character of Gus, "a touchy, self-sufficient man, with no
wish to assume responsibility for two children who will only get
in his way. ... The relationship is dissected in an uncompromisingly
adult way, untouched by easy sentiment, or any wish to make the
reader comfortable" (1984:153).
This makes The Circus is Coming one of Noel's most challenging
books, and for this reason some children may find it less appealing
than her earlier works. However, this difficulty is to a large
extent counterbalanced by the fascinating picture of circus life
she draws - less fairy-tale and more interesting than that of
Enid Blyton's Mr Galliano's Circus (which was published
in the same year). The Circus is Coming demands a slightly
more sophisticated reader than Mr Galliano's Circus, but
it is ultimately a far more rewarding experience, both as a character
story and as a tale about circus life.
Editions and Availability
The Circus is Coming was first published in 1938 by J.
M. Dent & Sons, with illustrations by Stephen Spurrier. There
is a publisher's note saying that owing to serious illness, Stephen
Spurrier was unable to complete the finished drawings; so instead
the rough sketches, made while travelling with the circus, have
This edition was reprinted a number of times. The 5th printing
(1948) had a revised text, and was illustrated by Clarke
In 1956, Puffin Books released a paperback version of the revised
edition, with the Clarke Hutton illustrations. It seems possible
that the revisions to the text were made by Noel herself, and
that the 1956 edition may have been further revised
from the 1948 printing: the copyright notification in the Puffin
reads "Noel Streatfeild, 1938, 1956".
I have not been able to compare the first and fifth printings,
but based on the Puffin edition, the changes do not affect the
plot or characters, nor do they seem to reflect changes brought
about by the Second World War (except that a sea-lion, named Hitler
in the original edition, is renamed Sigfried). Instead, there
are numerous adjustments to the writing style, and cuts to small
pieces of extra detail. As examples, some of the changes from
Chapter One are listed below:
1938 (first) edition
Peter and Santa were orphans. Their father and mother were
killed in a railway accident when they were babies, so they
came and lived with their aunt.
Peter and Santa were orphans. When they were babies their
father and mother were killed in a railway accident, so
they came and lived with their aunt.
|Lord Bronedin went to a preparatory school
and was down for Eton. Aunt Rebecca had never seen either,
but she knew the duchess's views on education, and so would
not send Peter to an ordinary school. Instead she got him
||Lord Bronedin went to a preparatory school
and to Eton. Aunt Rebecca could not possibly afford either,
but she would not send Peter to an ordinary school. Instead
she sent him to be taught privately.
|She learnt the violin. Not because she was
musical, but because Lady Marigold learnt to play one. There
could not really be a more stupid reason.
||She learnt the violin, not because she was
musical, but, of all silly reasons, because Lady Marigold
had learnt to play a fiddle.
|Partly because Miss Fane always had colds
and was too ill to teach, and partly because she could not
teach anyway, Santa never learnt much. She would not have
learnt much even if she had an aptitude for playing the violin,
which she certainly had not.
||Partly because Miss Fane always had colds
and was too sniffy to teach, and partly because she could
not teach anyway, Santa never learnt much, and would not have
learnt much even if she had had an aptitude for playing the
violin, which she certainly had not.
|They were more ignorant even than you would
expect from their comic education
||They were more ignorant even than you would
expect from their dreadful education
|Peter would not have minded going to school,
but deep inside him he felt it would give the school a bit
of a lift if they were lucky enough to get him.
||Peter would have liked to go to school like
other boys, but he supposed Aunt Rebecca was right not to
|Aunt Rebecca obviously could not put Santa
into riding clothes in Battersea, so she took the London angle
and dressed her smartly. Matching hats and coats and always
gloves. The same London dressing happened to Peter. Lord Bronedin
had looked a perfect disgrace in the country, but he had good
clothes in London. Peter had fairly good suits and overcoats,
and he always had to war gloves. So it was that they really
had none of those sorts of clothes which you can do anything
in becuase it does not matter what happens to them. The result
was that they played games to suit what they wore. Quiet,
gentle games, where nothing could get torn.
||Aunt Rebecca took the idea of smart clothes
in London very seriously, and dressed Santa as well as she
could in nicely tailored coats, a matching hat, and, what
Santa hated, always gloves. The same London dressing happend
to Peter. Lord Bronedin had looked a perfect disgrace in the
country, but he had good clothes for London. Poor Peter was
never allowed to wear old lclothes, but always well-brushed
suits, and in winter a good overcoat. So neither of them ever
knew the glory of putting on the sort of clothes which you
can do anything in because it does not matter waht happens
to them. Their clothes, of course, affected everything they
did, including the games they played. You cannot play anything
but quiet games, in clothes that have to be thought about
all the time.
What with one thing and another Peter and
Santa were rather queer. They lived shut up in the Battersea
house feeling rather smug and better than their neighbours;
doing their lessons with their odd teachers; playing old-fashioned
games. They made scrap-books, taking great care not to get
any paste on to their clothes; they played spillikins with
an old ivory set that had belonged to the duchess; they
played solitaire with a board Lady Vansittart had given
one Christmas. But they never played anything that was even
mildly rough, and they had never put their noses out of
the front door without their gloves on.
|What with one thing and another Peter and
Santa were becoming rather odd children.
The paperback was reprinted a number of times throughout the
1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
In 1939 the US edition, retitled Circus Shoes and with
illustrations by Richard Floethe, was published by Random House.
There have been at least two more recent US editions, including
a 1981 large print edition (with the Richard Floethe illustrations)
by Gregg Press Children's Literature Series, and a 1985 paperback
by Dell Publishing Company.
As I have not read the US editions, I do not know if the text
was in any way amended.
Still in print
The Circus is Coming is out of print in the US.
In the UK, Hodder
& Stoughton Childrens currently has a paperback edition, although,
somewhat oddly, it has the US title of Circus Shoes. From
the website, it is not clear whether this is the original text,
or the 1956 revised edition.