May Zinga was just seven years old in 1901 when her mother gave her away to Wirth Brothers Circus. Torn from her family, little May had big dreams, to become the greatest equestrienne in the world, performing astounding tricks on the back of a galloping horse. The little girl from Bundaberg, Queensland, went on to perform for the British Royal Family and American President Woodrow Wilson, becoming a favourite of the suffragette movement in the early 1900s.
"Don't tell me women cannot do anything they desire," she was reported as saying.
And such is the story of Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus, the fourth in the Heritage Heroes series by Canberra author Stephanie Owen Reeder.
"If I was making these stories up no one would believe me," says Owen Reeder of the incredible tale.
Her previous book Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by pony told the story of a nine-year-old boy who travelled 1000km on horseback to attend the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932.
It has been optioned as film and went on to win the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books in the 2016 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards.
Owen Reeder first started writing the heritage series when she was editing a book called Picturing Australia for the National Library of Australia featuring some artworks in the collection.
"One of those was an image of three children, by William Strutt. They looked at the end of tether, lying in the bush, snuggled up together," she says.
"I've got three children and it really touched my heart. I could just feel something drastic had happened to them so I found out more about the painting.
"Strutt had heard about three children who in 1864 got lost in the bush for nine days. They were only three, seven and nine and it was a big story at the time, it even made the London press. They actually survived, which in those days was unusual.
"I just thought this would be a great story to retell for children today."
Lost: A true tale from the bush was published in 2006.
Owen Reeder loves history and believes it's important that children recognise that it's about more than dates.
"It's important that kids read books and if they're learning about history in a way they can relate they'll be more engaged," she says.
"History is about real people doing real things. It's about all the small people who together make the country what it is."
She says she feels like something of a "treasure hunter" doing all the research.
"It's about finding the story and then delving into the history, what it was like living as a child in those days.
"A lot of the material I use is visual, those things can tell you a lot about how people lived at that time."
Owen Reeder takes the history and fictionalises it to some extent, finishing off each chapter with some information and facts to complement the story.
She says the heritage series also has a big following of adult readers who enjoy being taken back to their own childhood.
Her first children's picture book was published in 1997, The Flaming Witch featured stunning illustrations by Indonesian artist Dadang Christiano (who, as an aside, currently features in an exhibition at the Nancy Sever Gallery).
For many years she was a Hansard editor at Parliament.
"One could say that puts you in good stead for writing for children, especially watching what's going on at the moment," she laughs.
It has been something of a circus.
Marvellous May: Queen of the Circus, by Stephanie Owen Reeder. NLA Publishing, $24.99.