Poster courtesy of our treasured Iphigene

Yesterday, we featured Sid Fleischman’s The Entertainer and the Dybbuk.  Today, it’s his son Paul Fleischman’s turn, a back-to-back father-and-son featurette brought to you by our bimonthly theme here at Gathering Books.

I’ve seen Paul Fleischman’s Sidewalk Circus a few times in bookstores. I was glad to find a copy in our library and be able to share this wonderful wordless picture book to readers like you.

A Tribute to the Power of Imagination. Sidewalk Circus is a treat to everyone who believes in the power of imagination. There is no actual plot presented in the book. A girl waits for the bus and sees the world-renowned Garibaldi Circus unfold in front of her very eyes.

I tried to search for a Garibaldi Circus but I couldn’t find any. Search results would automatically direct me to Paul Fleischman’s book. Suffice it to say that the Garibaldi Circus was created for the sole purpose of this book. (If you do find any information about an existing Garibaldi Circus, please share it with us.)

As you open the book on the fourth page, you see the brilliant “color play” in Kevin Hawkes’ beautiful acrylic paintings, deserving of the 2004 Society Illustrators Silver Medal award for original art in picture books. My thoughts on the “color play” might be the result of overanalyzing picture books but the idea struck me that I just had to share.

If you look closely, you’ll find the girl waiting for the bus on the left and a commercial building (with the circus announcement) on the right. The image on the right appears to be more vibrant than that of the left, perhaps representing life in the circus. Notice how the girl seems to be the only one in color while the rest of the people waiting for the bus are in grey?

When I saw this, I thought of two things. First, only the girl sees the world-renowned Garibaldi Circus. Second, it somehow speaks for children’s imagination, how children are free thinkers, always coming up with fresh ideas. As we grow older and become entangled in the affairs of grown ups, some of us forget the power of imagination. Unlike the girl, we forget at times to see the world in a fresh perspective.

In addition, the shadow thrown by the structure behind the people waiting for the bus represents the unfolding of the circus. (Although, to some readers, it may be just that, a shadow. Heh.) Overall, the “color play” creates a balance that is pleasing to the eyes.

A Celebration of the Sights and Sounds of the City. Sidewalk Circus takes you on a delightful “tour” of urban life. It takes the mundane and reimagines everyday life. Through the eyes of the girl, readers see beyond the obvious: silly street kids acting like clowns, a goliath-like butcher carrying a slab of meat as big as he is, and a construction worker juggling pails and walking on narrow steel bars, just to name a few.

Here are some of the street performers we commonly find in the real world. I like how the pictures are real-life representation of those in Paul Fleischman’s book.

Man on tightrope juggling fire. Street performers are referred to as "buskers." Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

And this picture has to be the best representation of Sidewalk Circus!!

Known as Mike the Construction Guy, a French Quarter Street Performer on Royal Street in New Orleans. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

[Kevin Hawkes] says, “As I worked on Sidewalk Circus, I spent a lot of time in Portland, Maine. I was amazed by all the things going on in the city, and all the people and things I had never really noticed before. I am grateful for Paul Fleischman for opening my eyes.” (Taken from the back flap of the book.)

Circus Performers by Heart. Paul Fleischman’s Sidewalk Circus is not only a tribute to the power of imagination. It represents you and me. We are all circus performers in our own ways, juggling with life, as well as adding colors to the lives of others.

“It came out of the blue,” [Paul Fleischman] says of Sidewalk Circus. “A vision of a ringmaster standing on a city street, describing the sun rising and the clouds changing color as if they were circus acts. Eventually, I decided to leave him out of the story. And then I decided to leave the words out as well.” (Taken from the back flap of the book)

Like I said, Sidewalk Circus is a wordless treat. Laugh, celebrate, and be captivated by this award-winning picture book over and over again.

About the Author and Illustrator

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Son of Sid Fleischman, Paul Fleischman is the award-winning author of many books for children and young adults. He blends musical language with quirky looks at the world as viewed through the lens of human and natural history. He won the Newbery Medal for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. He is a nominee for the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award. If you wish to know more about him, you may visit his website.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Kevin Hawkes is the illustrator of over 40 acclaimed picture books and chapter books including Chicken Cheeks, Library Lion, The Librarian Who Measured the Earth, and Weslandia. His vibrant colors, unusual perspectives, and dry sense of humor are hallmarks of his work. When forced indoors, he works quite happily painiting cobalt blue skies, imaginary landscapes, and flying pianos. If you wish to know more about him, you may visit his interactive website.

Sidewalk Circus
Presented by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 1st edition (Mar 2004)
Book borrowed from the Chula Vista Public Library
Book photos taken by me

2004 Society Illustrators Silver Medal
2004 BCCB Blue Ribbon Picture Book Award
AWB Reading Challenge Update: 11 of 35

Picture Book Challenge Update: 22 of 120

Fats is the Assistant Manager for Circulation Services at the Wayne County Public Library in Wooster, Ohio. She considers herself a reader of all sorts, although she needs to work on her non-fiction reading. Fats likes a good mystery but is not too fond of thrillers. She takes book hoarding seriously and enjoys collecting bookmarks and tote bags. When she is not reading, Fats likes to shop pet apparel for her cat Penny (who absolutely loathes it).

5 comments on “Sidewalk Circus by Paul Fleischman: A Wordless Treat

  1. I LOVE SIDEWALK CIRCUS. Thank you for citing this. Lee


    • Dear Mr. Lee: it’s always a privilege to have you in our site. This comment has certainly made my day. Sidewalk Circus is a gem and I am truly grateful that I was able to access it through our library. (Some of the really nice books I wanted to feature for this bimonthly theme were not available.) – Fats 🙂


  2. This indeed looks beautiful Fats. It’s a good book for my granddaughter for the future. Thanks for telling about it. (And I thought I knew so much about this author!)


    • Hello Linda! It’s a lovely picture book, isn’t it? When I first saw this in a bookstore, I didn’t think it was a wordless picture book. As soon as I got home from the library that day I read all the picture books I got. When I realized it was wordless I thought it was an “easy enough read.” When I studied the picture book a second time, contemplating on what I was going to say about it, those themes popped up, and it was refreshing to see the book in a new light. Glad you found another one to add to your collection! 🙂


  3. Pingback: List of Circus, Carnivale, Paranormal Themed Books for All Ages «

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