Author: Emma Carroll.

Author’s webpage –

There are some fun facts about Emma Carroll with photos and the real Pip himself. She is also listing some teaching ideas for the book.

Structure of the novel

The novel is divided into 2 “Acts” with a shorter “Interval” in between. The first act is placed in the Chipchase’s circus, the Interval is a journey to America, and the second act is about Mr Wellbeloved’s show and crossing the Niagara Falls.

The “Curtain Call” is the final chapter in the book, when all the puzzles are solved and you just can’t leave the book, because you want to continue your friendship with Louie for a tiny bit longer. It brings happy surprises and fills your head with feelings of triumph of justice.

The structure – First Act – Interval – Second Act – Curtain Call – could be used as an analogue of a Story Mountain (introduction and build-up, problem, resolution and ending) – an instrument to show the development of a story, how a story can be planned.

Start, Setting, Feelings, Personality

The story is set in the Victorian circus. There are many performance descriptions throughout the book. All the setting descriptions are organically linked to the events and actions. The reader is never bored or annoyed by them. The book is a great resource to analyse setting description.

This is the first paragraph of the novel:

“The bigger the danger, the bigger the crowd. One look at tonight’s punters said it all. With just minutes till show time, the big top was almost full and I was quite ready to burn with excitement. Every last ticket was sold. And still the queue snaked out of the field and down the lane until all you could see were people’s hats bobbing above the hedgerows.” (p. 3)

A powerful introduction with not that many adjectives. It’s the emotions of the main character that make us dive into the environment and swim there like in our own back pool. We already have the pictures of people laughing and cute little children with candies – no need to waste the lines describing them. The show is about to start and we’ve already got the ticket.

Quite often when the children are taught to write setting descriptions, the main focus in teaching is on the use of powerful words or adjectives. While the adjectives by themselves can make a text look like an encyclopedic article – an informative reading, not very close to a novel style description.

Setting – Chipchase’s circus 

“I darted across the showground straight for the big top. Smells of horse sweat and gingerbread filled the air. There was music too, the organ and drums all fast and furious, signalling the show was about to start. It was the bit of circus life I loved best, that moment before the action, when the very air tingled. And tonight I felt it keenly. How I dreamed of being a showstopper like Jasper. Breathed it. Lived it.” (p. 6)

“I rushed on. Behind the big top was a roped-off patch of grass. It was abustle with horses and jugglers and performers limbering up. In the centre of the space a bonfire blazed, making the dusk seem darker than before. It made me blink. ” (p. 7)

Character – Louie

“Inside the ticket booth where I worked there wasn’t space to swing a cat. I felt it specially tonight, jiggling from foot to foot, impatient to get finished so I’d be free to watch the show. My dog Pip sensed it too; sat beside me, he watched my every move.” (p. 4)

How do we first know about Louie’s greatest passion: “A little shiver went down my neck. Imagine if I was about to perform. All those eyes gazing up at me. Just imagine it!” (p. 4)

Appearance – Louie

“I started walking again, this time making more of a show, flourishing my wrists, stopping to crouch down and stretch out each leg in turn. It felt good to be watched. It made me think harder about how I moved, what shapes and lines I made.” (p. 28)

“Back on the ground, I felt suddenly shy in my too-big tunic and Jasper’s old tights.” (p.29)

“The boy stood up and took off his cap. This made me smile more. People didn’t often take their caps off for ticket sellers like me” (p.57)

Louie and Kitty Quickblade  – girls’ rivalry – a lot to discuss

‘Watch it, weasel!’ she cried.

I hated her calling me that. What she meant was, ‘You’re not like us, you’re not proper circus,’ because I had pale skin and green eyes and hair the colour of cinnamon, which no one else here did.” (p. 7)

Two girls of about the same age. Kitty is “only a tiny bit older” (p. 6). Both girls want to become showstoppers, although their talents are different. Broad description of Kitty’s act comes up when Louie is asked to be her assistant.

Language of Louie

“I felt pleased as punch”. (p. 19)
“This was far worse than talking tightropes”. (p.48)

Questions to ask is What elements (words or phrases) from Louie’s speech can show she’s a teenager? What is distinctive to Louie’s personal dialect (idiolect)? Was the girl eloquent in her speech or short and focused? How her inner voice is different to her speech?

Appearance of Gabriel Swift

“Then I turned my attention to the boy. He crouched down to greet Pip first, and did so like a person who truly loved dogs. This softened me a little. It also gave me a chance to size him up. I reckoned he was older than me, though only just, and tidily dressed in a collarless shirt, dark jacket and trousers. He had summer-blond hair and freckles across his nose. His chin was a bit too sharp and his eyes a bit too green, but all together it was a very nice face”. (p. 57)

“Everything went quiet. Gabriel’s power came from his feet, laid toe to heel on the rope. He barely lifted them at all. He looked as sure as a bird”. (p. 65)

Tarot fortune-telling

The first notion of Tarot – Miss Lilly on p. 6: “A great change is on the way“.

“I handed the cards back to her. She shut her eyes and her lips moved silently. When she opened her eyes again, they were pools of black…” (from p. 97 to p.102).


A group of lessons can be based on the interview with Louisa. What newspaper article can you write basing on this interview?

Words and phrases

whiff (whiff of death) –  a smell that is only smelled briefly or faintly.
tightrope – a rope or wire stretched tightly high above the ground, on which acrobats perform feats of balancing.
scowl – frown in an angry or bad-tempered way.
groan – make a deep inarticulate sound in response to pain or despair.
squeamish – (of a person) easily made to feel sick, faint, or disgusted, especially by unpleasant images, such as the sight of blood.
ringmaster – the person directing a circus performance.
daredevil – a reckless person who enjoys doing dangerous things.

Louisa’s Scrapbook

One of the activities to make a bond with the book and learn some historical facts could be a creation of a Scrapbook, similar to what Louisa had – a scrapbook about the Great Blondin.

You can use the pictures listed below. All pictures here are in the Public Domain, I found them in the Wikipedia or somewhere else. More pictures could be seen at GettyImages

Maria Spelterini crossing Niagara Falls on July 4, 1876 


Some videos about Charles Blondin and other daredevils 

The Great Blondin

Niagara Falls Daredevils – Walking the Wire

Harry Draves

Nik Wallenda walks over Niagara Falls 2012


Other books about tightrope walking:

  1. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein,
  2. Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully,
  3. Who Walks the Tightrope? Working at a Circus by Mary Chambers.

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