Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reading: Sidewalk Circus

Photo courtesy of www.amazon.com
I'll never forget Mr. Pettibone, famed principal of Webster Elementary School, visiting my classroom with a cardboard carton of Whoppers and the wordless picture book Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day.  I simply loved that story when I realized that I could make it unfold the way that I wanted it to!  A story about a dog, mingling with the sweet taste of chocolate on my tongue, was simply euphoric!  Now, as an educator myself, I realize that wordless picture books are excellent writing teachers, encouraging children to create their own stories.  They're also friendly and approachable, especially for struggling readers, as they aren't saturated with those muddling words!  I have wanted to introduce my class of third graders to a wordless picture book to inspire their own narrative writing, and I am thankful for reading Sidewalk Circus by Paul Fleschman and Kevin Hawkes; I know my students will delight in the opportunity to create the words to go along with the outstanding illustrations in this book.

As I think about reading a wordless book, I am forced to analyze what literacy skills are involved.  Certainly, children who read books without words must still have an awareness of books, including how to hold the book correctly and how to analyze a page from left to right (although I did find my eyes going back and forth between the pages of Sidewalk Circus).  As I stated earlier, wordless picture books are a gateway to a child's imagination by giving him/her a prompt to think about it, pictures to interpret, and a story to write!  Sidewalk Circus does contain environmental text, which children see in their surroundings everyday, but struggling readers can still feel comfortable with this text.  As a comprehension tool, Sidewalk Circus would also be an ideal book for analyzing cause and effect.  For example, teachers and students can discuss certain events and what caused them to happen.  "What caused the famous Colombo Clown to fall headfirst into a cart of melons?" teachers may ask.  Looking at the illustrations, it appears that it was a collision brought on by a careless boy on a skateboard! 
What caused Colombo the Clown to dive headfirst
into a cart of melons? Readers of Sidewalk
Circus
 can analyze the illustrations
to figure it out!
Photo courtesy of ccb.lis.illinois.edu 


In this particular book, I am intrigued by the illustrators' use of shading and coloring.  More specifically, the adults in the story are illustrated like shadows, while the children are bright and cheerful.  While a child wearing a yellow shirt sits on a street bench and watches the seemingly commonplace workers - a newspaper salesman, a painter, a businessman - go about their duties, she imagines them as being a great act in the circus!  This seems to illustrate how children imagine their world.  Even the most typical scenes can be magical to a child.  As the child gets swept into this spectacular world, the adults sitting around her are darkly colored and mutely sipping their coffee, bending over their newspapers, or folding their arms while looking bored.  To me, this book is a reminder that children are fascinated by, in my perspective, some of the simplest things!  The world is new to them, and they yearn to see it, to explore it, and to learn about it!  

In a couple of weeks, I will be sharing Sidewalk Circus with my students to see how they perceive the story.  In the meantime, I am eager to expand my own library of wordless picture books with classics such as Good Dog, Carl, and yes, you guessed it, Sidewalk Circus! 

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