Review Blog

Feb 08 2018

Marvellous Miss May: queen of the circus by Stephanie Owen Reeder

cover image

Heritage Heroes series. National Library of Australia, 2018. ISBN 9780642279156
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Australian history, Women, Circuses. In this sumptuously presented book, with copious illustrations and reproductions of advertising banners and circus ephemera, Reeder tells the story of May Wirth, a tiny acrobat and equestrienne travelling with Wirths Circus around Australia and overseas in the early part of the twentieth century.
The life and times of the circuses that toured Australia is beguillingly presented, giving the reader a glimpse into a life now rarely seen and a theatrical experience much changed.
Besides the main story of May is the story of the circus and the lives of the circus folk, the precarious way they lived, the training and dogged determination to succeed at their craft, with sections showing us how the circus travelled, the animals that were part of the circus menagerie and other circuses around the world. Readers will thrill with the array of animals, then the main attraction of the circus, and marvel at the world wide fame of Little May Wirth.
Abandoned by her parents when she was seven, May was adopted by the Wirth family, and trained to be an acrobat and eventually a bareback rider. So skilled was she that she came to the attention of larger circuses, eventually travelling overseas, and touring with the Ringling Brothers, and Barnum and Bailley in the USA, and circuses in England and France. An amazing life is portrayed for us in this highly readable account, liberally accompanied by coloured illustrations and circus mementos, drawing the reader's eye to every page, taking in every detail. I loved the circus posters and the maps showing where they went, the photos of the circus people going about their daily tasks, the views of the ships with the equipment and animals aboard.
Included is information about how circuses developed and what they are like today, and the whole is accompanied by an excellent index and glossary, along with author notes, making this a valuable tool for children researching circus life as well as the life of May Wirth.
Stephanie Owen Reeder is the author of the Heritage Heroes series published by NLA, and information about these involving books presenting heroes of the past can be found here.
Fran Knight

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