A few years ago Moontrug heard bestselling author Andy Stanton speak at a literary festival and one boy in the audience laughed so much he was sick. Kind of EWWWW but kind of COOL as well. It was at that moment Moontrug thought: surely this author is the funniest guy in children’s books today. And then along comes William Sutcliffe with a side-splitting debut and Moontrug knows there’s competition on the Giggleometer… Sutcliffe’s Circus of Thieves and the Raffle of Doom is a must read for children aged 6+ who love books by Roald Dahl, Andy Stanton and David Walliams.
Hannah’s life is boring, boring, boring! Then Armitage Shank’s Impossible Circus comes to town and Hannah’s world is turned on its head when she meets Billy Shank, his astonishing camel, Narcissus, and a host of other bizarrely brilliant members of the circus. But all is not as it seems; Armitage Shank, evil ringmaster and Billy’s surrogate father, has a dastardly plan that could end in catastrophe for Hannah’s dull little village and it’s up to Hannah and Billy to stop his stinking scheme before it’s too late…
The first thing you notice about the book is the fabulous illustrations by the wonderfully named David Tazzyman. He illustrated Andy Stanton’s books and his humorously energetic eye has worked its magic again with Sutcliffe’s story. Sutcliffe brings us brilliantly memorable characters (Fluffypants McBain, the tabby cat from the Post Office, Narcissus, the taramasalata-loving camel and Irrrrrrrena, the acrobat assistant drenched in olive oil) who propel the story forward with energy and wit. What starts as a ‘rumble and a clatter and a faint trembling of the air’ soon becomes the country’s whackiest and most unforgettable collection of circus acts.
Sutcliffe is a natural story-teller and he gets you laughing from page 1. When Hannah jumps up onto Narcissus, the taramasalata-loving camel, Sutcliffe writes: ‘riding this animal was like sitting on a seesaw strapped to a supermarket trolley rolling around the deck of a boat on a stormy day in the middle of the Atlantic.’ You get the drift. And the footnotes are up there with Chris Riddell’s in Goth Girl: ‘Uglily isn’t a word. You know that. I know that. Let’s just move on.’ Sutcliffe’s characters are refreshingly original – and funny. Take Maurice, the oiled-up acrobat ,(and you must say his name as if you are gargling an espresso of pond water – Murrggghhhheeece – because Maurice is French): ‘In fact he was so proud of being French that he actually became slightly ratty if any other French people came within range, causing him to increase his Frenchness in order to ensure that he was always the most French person in his immediate vicinity. This was why he’d been forced to emigrate. Living with such a high level of competitive Frenchness in France itself was simply too exhausting.’
With his fantastic characters (did I mention Jesse, the Human Cannonball, the itchiest man in the world who suffers from vertigo and is afraid of cats and spaghetti?) and hilarious sense of humour Moontrug reckons William Sutcliffe is one to watch. I mean anyone who makes up words for a living (think gloombucket, gobgasted and flabbersmacked) and teaches us wise facts like ‘Penguins do not bend in the middle’ is worth a place in the Altocumulus Tower.