Monday, August 1

Secret Circus

by Johanna Wright 
Neal Porter Books / Roaring Brook Press 

Only the mice know, and they aren't telling...

In Paris there is a circus, a very secret circus, a very tiny circus, that only the mice know about. They ride a hot air balloon to a merry-go-round long after the people have gone to bed and find their way to the circus where they snack on left-behind snacks and enjoy the show. When it's over the mice return home safe with their secret and a conspiratorial wink that begs the reader to keep the secret safe.  

Using the very simple repetition of "Only the mice know..." followed by the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the circus Wright opens up the story to the charming illustrations. For the mice this secret circus is to be the event of the season and much is made of getting there as the circus itself, which is how it is with most highly anticipated events.

The economy of text is well matched with playful paintings that have the loose feel of cartoons on canvas. Wright paints in a transparent style that gives the effect of watercolor on textured canvas, both child-like and tactile.


I know this is a deceased horse to flog, but looking the illustrations I was reminded of the warmth and connection the eye makes with art made by human hands. I'm not in for bashing digital illustration but in looking through Secret Circus I couldn't stop thinking about how impossible it would be to capture the same mood in pixels. This leads me to thinking about books and the coming digital delivery devices and how much will be lost and retained in the transition. Would these illustrations maintain their charm on a digital screen? There's no reason to think they wouldn't, but with forced digital elements -- animation, pan and zoom, music and sound effect -- something would be lost. Looking at art in a museum isn't enhanced by music or shifts in lighting, and that, ultimately, s what leads me to think that books will always be with us. Artists will always take hand to medium, and despite being able to view the finished work as a digital upload we will still have that desire to see the thing in person, before us, to swim amid the subtleties in its presence.

So, yeah.

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