Or, to give it its full title, Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away from the Circus (and Joined the Library). This one is aimed at a slightly younger readership (ages 7 to 9) than most of the children’s books I read, but it came highly recommended because I never really grew out of Roald Dahl. A F Harrold’s universe is only a sidestep away from some of Dahl’s, so all the grown-ups are either despicably vile or well-intentioned idiots, and the surreal, slightly anachronistic world is depicted by Quentin Blake-esque doodles throughout too.
Fizzlebert Stump, or Fizz for short, is the son of a circus strongman and a clown. Travelling from town to town with the circus doesn’t give him much opportunity to make friends, but when a local child accidentally leaves a library book behind at the circus, Fizz thinks it would be the friendly thing to do to return it to the library. Except he doesn’t actually know what a library is. When he finds out, he wants to join immediately, but that decision quickly lands him in the clutches of the most disgusting people this side of a Channel 5 series with a name like Help! My Mother Collects Used Toilet Paper.
Harrold (or at least the narrator he is hiding behind) plays an important part in the story, frequently commenting on what’s going on (all the funniest gags are in the parentheses (or even in the parentheses within parentheses)). So not only does he get to explain what long words mean, he also gets to explain what a cliffhanger is, and why he’s using it! In more ways than one, it’s a book about the joy of storytelling, and I’m pleased to see A F Harrold is writing more of them.