Lyn Gardner‘s children’s book series certainly takes a leap in that direction! As a child I loved reading stage school stories – the ‘Drina‘ series, by Jean Estoril, ‘Ballet Shoes‘, by Noel Streatfield, and even the classic boarding school series’ of Enid Blyton – so when I heard that British theatre critic Gardner had released the first of her new children’s stage-school series, ‘Olivia’s First Term‘, I snapped it up for my Kindle. Work being what it is, it’s only today that I got around to opening it, and within the first page, a sneaky wire trailing from Olivia’s battered suitcase made my circus brain wonder… …and sure enough, five pages in, it’s revealed that Olivia and her sister Eel have been brought up in the circus by their tight-wire walking father!
So this is a stage school series with a difference; Olivia emphatically does not want to be at the Swan Academy where fortune has found her, and the conflicts in artistic ideals often perceived between traditional circus performers and those working within more mainstream dance and theatre are at the heart of this first novel. And, mirroring the developments across artistic boundaries that are becoming more and more common, the various talents of Olivia and her school-mates combine to create new and satisfying forms.
Community circus schools are growing in popularity in the UK, and it’s great to see this reflected in the literature of the next generation, giving ambitious young performers new dreams to chase. Gardner’s life-time of experience in the theatre-world makes the children’s adventures thoroughly realistic, and her regular reference to specific examples of classical and popular entertainment are enjoyable to those already familiar with them – and, no doubt, mind-expanding for young readers encountering names like Stoppard and ‘The Sound of Music’ for the first time.
There are also a lot of fabulous insights into actor training and methodologies that I would have lapped up as an eager child dreaming of drama-school; now I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, and hope that the circus elements become even further interweaved amongst the excellent portrayals of a traditional stage-school experience. Kindle-store, here I come!