Sidewalk Circus


presented by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes

Sidewalk Circus is a wordless story “presented” by Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes.

In this wordless picture book, the imagination of a child is explored as everyday people and happenings are viewed in a peculiar way. The Garibaldi Circus is coming to town, and a child sees this advertised on a billboard and starts seeing the circus acts all around town while people go about their daily activities. Full-bleed spreads to compensate for the absence of text, besides signs like the “butcher shop”, the marquis that reads “COMING SOON…WORLD-RENOWNED…GARIBARLDI CIRCUS!!!!……”, or other advertisements posted around town  for the different circus acts.

On the first  spread, the adults are mostly portrayed in dull garb. The colorful outfits highlight the important people out of this scene: a little girl dressed purple pants and a yellow shirt on the far left, and a man calling up from the street to workers above is wearing a plaid red and yellow shirt and jean suspenders. His shadow reveals what the little girl’s imagination is see – the ringleader of the circus calling out into the crowd. We can see the marquis in the background, and make the connection that this child is putting two and two together as she sits there on the bench waiting for the bus.

The little girl sees different people out and about and at work looking like they are a part of a circus act. The use of the shadow-silhouettes sometimes are used to reveal how the child is viewing the person.  A man carrying two buckets of building materials across a high beam looks like a tightwalker . Instead of a shadow-silhouette, there is a sign right below him that is advertising for the circus that reads “The Great Tebaldi – Price of Tight Rope Walkers.” Throughout the book, these shadow-silhouettes and these advertisements are used in conjunction or independently or one another. She also sees a strong man (a man carrying in a large package of meat), clowns (boys clumsily skateboarding), a juggler (flipping pancakes), a sword swallower (a patient at the dentist), stilt walkers (painter on a ladder), and flying trapeze artists (painters on a scaffold).

On one of the spreads, we realize the man we thought of as the ringleader is the one who’s been posting the advertisements – this seems very fitting as he is “orchestrating” the visual implications we are being presenting, much like a real ringleader. In some spreads, we can see more than one act going on at once. This is particularly important in the scene where we see the painters both on the “silts” and the “trapeze” struggling for their balance providing us with a climatic point.

As the little girl gets on the bus, we see a little boy approach. He also sees the marquis advertising for the circus, and on the last page, we see that his imagination also begins to run wild, but in a different way! He sees a squirrel running across a wire and thinks of a tightwalker. This event takes the story full-story, and reminds us what the world looks like through a child’s imagination.

This story reminded me of my many fond memories of attending the Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey circus while growing up. I just wish the little kids had some cotton candy to snack on while they watched these “performances”!


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