Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Toby Tyler, the Circus, and Me

I was reading Connie's interesting post ( you can read it here: this morning about her husband's childhood traveling the carnival circuit and was reminded of a book I hadn't thought about for many years. It was one of my dad's books I found on my grandma's bookshelf, Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks With the Circus.

My dad's copy looked like this. It was written in 1881 and his copy was probably from the 1930s.

I loved this book! I must have read it when I was about seven and in my memory it was a great adventure about a boy who left his adopted family to run away from home and take off with the circus when it came to his town.

It, along with National Geographic Magazine my parents subscribed to, sparked my first memory of longing for travel, to see what was out there in the world. The train to Chicago used to go by my house in the night and as I was falling asleep I would create dreamy fantasies of myself on the train and all the places in the world I wanted to see.

And here was Toby Tyler, a mere kid, doing it!

I had a surprise when I looked the book up. The book that first fueled my wanderlust obsession was described like this:

"Toby Tyler is a "bad boy" novel, meant to teach a lesson, what happens to boys who do bad things."

What? It did pretty much just the opposite for 7-year old me!

Apparently I'm in good company. Carl Sandburg, one of my favorite American poets, claimed it as his favorite adventure book as a boy, "even better than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn." And so did some other American authors.

And it just goes to show you, children's authors write a book for one reason but that's not necessarily the message young readers remember for the next 60 years!

Anyone else have fond memories of Toby Tyler and his monkey, Mr Stubbs?





  1. No, I've never read it. But my Dad said that he and his cousin ran off once to join the circus, didn't make it and had to go home.

  2. I have never heard of Toby Tyler. It's a book that certainly influenced you. I read Connie's blog this morning and it's an interesting post.

  3. The book rings a bell, but I've never read it. I haven't read Far Side's post yet but will stop by there shortly.

  4. I don't know this book, we had our dutch children book writers. But I have read all the books of "The Five" by Enid Blyton.

  5. I've never heard of that book. I might have to check into it. Far Side's circus post was interesting. Good thing you're back in the South. The entertainment here for last night was flash floods! More today.

  6. I have not read this one, but Heidi and Trixie Belden inspired me! I have a number of friends who ran off to join the carnival, more stories will be forthcoming. I decided it was too much of the family history not be shared:)

  7. I can't say that I have heard of Toby Tyler maybe because it is American. In those days most of our publications were from England like the "William" books or "Biggles". Children's books have come a long way since then.

  8. I've not heard of this one, but the plot sounds a little similar to 'The Circus is Coming' by Noel Streatfield (who I've just discovered was a woman, you learn something every day). I enjoyed that when I was very small. Books like this make a huge impact when you're young - and always bear re-reading.

  9. I can't remember ever reading it, but boy, that cover looks familiar. Maybe it was one of my uncle's books I saw at my grandparents'.

  10. I found a copy of Toby Tyler to read for free online!!! It's at:

    1. I can't decide if I want to read it again or just enjoy my childhood memories of the book.

  11. I remember the TV show with young Micky Dolenz [of the Monkees] as Circus Boy. This is a very interesting and companionable post. Ah the memories of train whistles in the magic pre-sleep times of childhood! So glad to meet you-

    Warm ALOHA to You,

  12. I loved 5 Little Peppers and all the others in that series...:)

  13. That's a cute story. I remember enjoying Ramona and Beezus books. When my sister got old enough to read, I shared these books with her. She loved them too.