Have you ever had the opportunity to sit on a bench and just observe the world around you? Many times, we adults are too busy to notice anything. We see everything for exactly what it IS not what it COULD BE. In the Sidewalk Circus Paul Fleishman and Kevin Hawkes work collaboratively to tell a story about the Garibaldi Circus coming to town. The setting IS on the city street with construction workers, a butcher’s shop, a market, a theater marquee, a restaurant, and a dentist’s office. Through Hawkes amazing artwork you will see how this city street COULD BE a circus act.
The first full-bleed spread shows people beginning the day. Most of the spread is shadowed by the buildings with the sun on the rise. People are in their normal routine, reading the paper, waiting for the bus stop or taking their dog for a morning walk. Two people stand out from all the rest. The girl wearing a yellow shirt and purple pants and the man wearing a yellow and red shirt with overalls. As the girl is walking down the street, she notices the man holding up a rolled piece of paper. The shadow behind the man illustrates the child’s perception of what COULD BE, the Ringmaster. She takes a seat on the bench and reads the marquee, “COMING SOON! WORLD-RENOWNED…. GARIBALDI CIRCUS!” The show is about to begin….
Hawkes uses a full bleed spread to encourage us to become part of the audience in this circus. Then, he frames the girl on the left side of the page to clearly show this story is being told through her eyes. Within the frame of the girl, there are four other adults all in black and white while she continues to be in color. Throughout the story Hawkes alternates between the full bleed spread to pull us in and then he frames the girl and uses one and a half pages to continue the actions through this girl’s perspective. His use of acrylics and smooth paper make the colors vibrant and engaging. His use of shadows allows him to transform the story from what IS to what COULD BE. He transforms the ordinary to extraordinary through the eyes of a child.
We feel frightened as the construction worker walks across the beam… or as “The Great Tebaldi” walks across the tightrope. Hawkes is able to elicit suspense and fear in the reader because of the lines and angles that he uses. The lines from the beams are angled from the bottom left toward the top right. The construction worker is also angled making it appear that he is off balance.
Who knew that a man carrying a frozen hunk of meat COULD BE “Goliath the Strongman,” two children on skateboards COULD BE “The Famous Colombo Clowns,” window washers COULD BE “The Borovsky Brothers on the Flying Trapeze?” Even a dog walking on a leash becomes a lion.
Hawkes does a terrific job of weaving these acts together. He is able to draw your attention to the main event while including events from the past that we would see for what it really IS. The man with the yellow and red shirt appears throughout the story. One might think that he is just hanging posters to advertise the circus coming to town, but through a different lens one could see that he is the ringmaster coordinating these events.
At the end, the girl is walking toward the bus and there is a shadow of a clown on the road. I began to wonder if the circus was going to continue as she traveled along. Then, I turned the page and realized another circus was about to begin with different characters. A young boy is sitting on the bench reading the marquees that is advertising the circus coming to town. The tightrope walker in the boy’s version is a squirrel with a long plant in his mouth as he is running across the wire.
Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes make a great pair. Even though this is a wordless picture book, Hawkes would not have seen these events without Fleischman helping him see these events through his imagination. By the same token, we as readers would not have understood Fleischman’s story without the artwork by Hawkes. His ability to use colors and shading told a sequence of events in our ordinary world and transformed them to extraordinary.