"The best children's stories are wisdom dipped in art and words." -Peter Reynolds

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sidewalk Circus

Sidewalk Circus was published in 2004 and was written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. This book is proof that sometimes actions speak louder than words. This wordless picture book conveys a storyline where ordinary people on the street parallel circus characters in the eyes of children.  I absolutely loved this book! Ok, I know what you’re thinking. What book don’t I like? I can’t think of one!

Since I knew this was a wordless picture book, I decided to really take my time reading it. If there is no text to convey the story then the pictures must be pretty intricate and telling, right?! There is a great deal of intricate details in the pictures of this book. The first thing I noticed that caught my eye on the front and back of the book was how the shadow did not match up with the characters. The shadows told a different story! Those are not regular working class people on the sidewalk… it’s a circus!

My favorite page in the whole book is the first two page spread. My eyes immediately were drawn to a little girl in yellow. Her bright yellow shirt popped against the dark shadow of a building and the monotony of adults. Then my next thought was, what is she looking at? This brings me to my next point. The illustrations are brilliant and absolutely beautiful in this book! The straight shadow line points our eyes directly at a construction man in overalls. Only, the little girl isn’t really looking at that man. She is looking at his shadow and imagining him instead as the circus ringleader like on the cover. But if you look at the shadows of the other working people in this picture they all have their own, normal shadows. It was like Fleischman and Hawkes were giving his a sneak peek at the excitement to come. Lastly, another reason this is my favorite part is because of the elderly woman sitting on the bench. I saw her as a preview for what is to come for this little girl. Too soon her childhood will be gone and her imagination with it. On this sidewalk, only children get to see the circus act.

As the book continues, this same little girl sits on the park bench surrounded by working class adults who are busy drinking coffee, reading their newspapers, or grumbling. They are all in black and white colors while the girl is in full color. As she sits on that bench and waits for her bus, the sidewalk of this street comes to life as a circus. On the second two-page spread we see an old theater with the sign, “WORLD-RENOWNED GARIBALDI CIRCUS!!! COMING SOON!” As she sits each working person across the street becomes a circus performer in her mind. There are the tight rope walkers, the strong man, the clowns, the juggling act, the daring sword swallowers, stilt walkers, and even the flying trapeze. What an imagination she has! But sadly, her bus arrives and she gets up to get on board.  Suddenly the adults become back in color as they board the bus showing that her child-like imagination was coming to an end now as she was pulled back to the real world. In the background we see a boy walking up the street in the same way the little girl did. He too sees the sidewalk circus! And so it continues!

I cannot say enough about the illustrations. The colors are soft with varying shades of dark and light. The textures are incredibly real looking. The shadowing is deliberate and does a perfect job drawing the eyes to certain parts of the page. The use of line in this book is magnificent and they go in all directions. My mind was never bored “reading” the pictures of this story. I would love to read this book to my second graders and watch the story come alive from their eyes. I am interested in reading more wordless picture books! Do any teachers out there have suggestions for me?  Check out this book from a library near you!

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