Our wordless picture book special this March and April has led us to many authors whom we had not known previously. From Chilean cartoonist Fernando Krahn, to award winning book artist Suzy Lee, the traveler Mitsumasa Anno, the collage-artwork of Jeannie Baker – (among others) and now to the subdued beautiful wordless artwork of Peter Collington. We have featured his book A Small Miracle here and now we give space this Easter Sunday to The Midnight Circus.
A Little Boy’s Heartache. I am not sure what kind of media Collington uses in his artwork here but it evokes this quiet quality of calmness and classic old-world charm. The illustrations grow on you and take root within.
The first few pages show this young boy who is evidently in love with the rocking wooden white horse found in the store right outside of his house. He loves putting a coin in the slot and spending time with the lovely horse before he goes home.
He experiences his first heartbreak, however, when the storeowner decided to replace the horse with a rocket ship instead. While his mother and the avuncular owner of the store made attempts to ease his pain – he could not be comforted, although our little boy did not throw a fit or a tantrum. It was just this … quiet heartbreak. His mother reads him a picture book before sleeping entitled ‘The Circus Family’ while his eyes fill with tears as he grieves for a lost friend.
Easter Bunnies, The Carnies and a Child’s Fantasies. What follows next is like a blend of make-believe, dream-like states, and half-truths evident in tiny stars pinned on one’s sleeping gown. There is this Polar Express element to the story with children in their night gown racing to catch a train that would bring them to this magical circus with acrobats, clowns and gorillas, little girls in feathered hats and men dressed in cowboy suits. Our little boy however was not able to catch this magical train. Instead, his friend the white pony galloped his way towards him to bring him to the carnival.
The book reminds me of children’s fascination with carnivals, the circus, clowns and all the magic that goes along with it – with wooden ponies that come to life. It also brought back recollections of eerie links connected to circus shows such as the HBO TV series that I followed closely several years back Carnivale and the book Mirrormask by Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman (which has been adapted into a film).
This one though, has no such gothic element to it – just plain guileless charm and simplicity. I also thought that we might as well post this on Easter Sunday with the celebration of Easter eggs, bunnies, and the miracle of life.
Possible teacher resources and classroom activity. As I was going over possible links that might make this book meaningful to educators who might be keen on introducing this in their class, I found this downloadable PDF link as created by Sydney Opera House. It generally talks about circus shows, how teachers can make use of varied books (including The Midnight Circus) that talk about carnivals and infuse this in students’ learning. A lot of classroom activities suggested as well. Check it out.
The Midnight Circus by Peter Collington. Heinemann London, 1992. Book borrowed from the NIE Library.