“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and children of all ages! Welcome to Burfoot’s Circus, the travelling home of freaks, misfits, drop-outs and the socially inept – sometimes all of the above – come together for your entertainment pleasure tonight, out of a love of performing in some cases, and simply fear of discovery in others.”
– Jackie Trippier Holt, Freaks Like Us
While I don’t remember watching the circus inside the Big Tent, I do enjoy watching acrobats, trapeze artists, jugglers, lion tamers, and other circus performers every chance I get. I’m particularly enamored by contemporary circus acts like the vibrant Cirque de la Mer who I saw perform at Sea World San Diego, and the visually captivating Cirque du Soleil. I watched Cirque du Soleil’s performance, KA, at MGM Grand in Las Vegas about five years ago with my aunt and uncle.
As we continue to celebrate the beauty in oddities, I’m sharing with you two picture books that have to do with circus and beautiful strangeness. These books are brought to you by two author-illustrators whose unconventional art speaks of the strange and the macabre. You can add these books to the List of Circus, Carnivale, Paranormal-Themed Books for All Ages that Myra had posted last year.
“Maybe they were born of karma, their own or their parents… Maybe the universe had a purpose for them, and they were what they were because the world needed them to be that way.”
- Jackie Trippier Holt, Freaks Like Us
Written and illustrated by: Henrik Drescher
Published by: Hyperion Books for Children
Genre: Picture book, fiction
Book photos taken and edited by me.
Meet the Klutzes. Since time immemorial, Klutzes were bungling fools. Louise is a Klutz and, being a Klutz, she can’t help but live up to her family name. They are a family of oddballs with candy-cane-striped noses, squiggly-wobbly arms and legs, and mismatched clothes that will have the fashion police go running after them! I mean, who wears a purple-over-green polka dotted blouse and skirt or a green-over-red-striped shirt and pants? Not to mention those big, clunky, crusty boots that cause them to trip and klutz away their days!
In this hilarious, zany, and all-other-silly-words-you-can-think-of picture book, Henrik Drescher tells the story of a family who carries on with their lives despite their constant klutzing and the occasional teasing of their neighbors. In one of their pitch-of-the-night wanderings, the Klutzes crash into Professor Squirmworm’s Magic Circus Caravan – literally! What do you think would happen if a group of oddballs encounter a traveling circus on its way to the next big city? I leave that for you dear readers to discover.
Henrik Drescher has a penchant for the grotesque as can be seen in his artworks. Among his popular children’s books are Pat the Beastie and The Boy Who Ate Around (considered as one of the NY Times’ Ten Best Illustrated Books). His artwork reminds me so much of Klasky Csupo’s art in Aaahh! Real Monsters, a cartoon series that I used to watch on Nickelodeon more than a decade ago.
According to the back jacket flap of the book, Henrik Drescher’s artwork is part of the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs permanent collection and appears in many publications like Newsweek and Rolling Stone. The style he used in Klutz is a combination of pencil, ink, paint, and paper cutouts. With unique, multicolored art complemented by text that twist and turn around the pages, Drescher’s work challenges what you know about art in children’s books.
“Damn everything but the circus! The average ‘painter’ ‘sculptor’ ‘poet’ ‘composer’ ‘playwright’ is a person who cannot leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse, make people laugh with a clown’s mouth, [and] orchestrate twenty lions.”
- e.e. cummings
Written by: Maira Kalman
Photos by: Donatella Brun
Design by: M&Co
Book photos taken and edited by me.
Roarr: Calder’s Circus is not your average children’s book. Then again, if you’re holding a Maira Kalman book in your hand, you know that what you have is something above-and-beyond average. Children and adults can enjoy reading this book on different levels.
The story of Calder’s Circus and the cute albeit odd-looking figures of circus performers will appeal to children. Children may find the text funny, although the humor is intended for the older readers. This book is a tribute to Calder’s Circus as well as a celebration of art and photography.
it may sock you
in the nose
or kiss you on top
of your pointed head.
It is a circus after all.
Expect, as they say,
And live life to the fullest.
(from the front jacket flap)
Alexander Calder was an artist who made circus figures out of household items and scraps. He created his own traveling circus, placed it in trunks, and visited people’s houses where Calder’s Circus performed. With his circus arranged neatly on the floor with a record playing in the background, Alexander Calder flipped wire acrobats, wiggled belly dancers, caroused cowboys, and manipulated tiny and delicate creatures with his big (beefy) hands (quoted from Maria Kalman). Calder’s Circus is now part of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
The lyrical text of Maira Kalman never fails to captivate. The story has rhythm and is sometimes told in verses. Similar to the layout in Henrik Drescher’s Klutz, the text in Maira Kalman’s book twist and turn, skip and hop, and go round and round in every page. Combining Maira Kalman’s magical storytelling and Donatella Brun’s photographic skills, Roarr: Calder’s Circus is a literary tour de force for writers, artists, and photographers.
I was fortunate to find “Hello from Donatella Brun” written on the first page. The golden metallic ink used was barely visible on the black background. The book could have been published with it, but I’d like to think that I have yet another autographed art book that I dug from the thrift store. A marvelous find, don’t you think? So is this book.