There is always something liberating and exciting about wordless picturebooks. The gap between what is represented and the meaning-making process opens up just enough for readers to invite a richness of interpretation. Transforming Sterer’s narrative into a wordless tale, Di Giorgio, creator of the highly acclaimed Professional Crocodile, presents us with the story of a troupe of animals and their night-time excursions into an empty fairground.
With a beautiful pairing of endpapers to open and close the narrative, the story begins with the arrival of a travelling funfair and ends with its departure. In the foreground, sheltered by the shadows of trees, is a small gathering of animals who seem concerned with other matters save for a curious bear cub intrigued by the arrival of humans and their contraptions. Like a slow-rolling camera, the dedication and title page reveal people erecting tents and rides in preparation for eventual attendees. More animals watch on. Why is it that we are positioned alongside these animals and not with our fellow humans? The answer comes when, at the end of the evening’s amusement, a lone attendant closes down the fair, locks the gates and heads for home. A gathering of animals tentatively approach.
With the help of a pair of crafty racoons, the funfair is suddenly brought to life. As if casting off their ‘wildness’ for one magical evening, the animals, now anthropomorphised, do everything the humans did earlier: buy popcorn, doughnuts, sweets and take part in the games and attractions, chase sugar-addled cubs and win huge cuddly versions of themselves. A young wolf cub, who looks slightly befuddled when it wins a goldfish, is particularly humorous, and a bearer of a poignant message for later.
As the evening continues, wild boar and wolves spin joyously in teacup rides, hares and deer rush around on roller-coasters. From carousels (animals riding animals comes across as delightfully funny) to chair-o-planes, big wheels to shooting galleries, the animals delight in the activities. There’s much for the observant reader to notice and an invitation for new stories to be discovered with repeated readings. With the arrival of dawn, the animals quickly shut down the rides, clean up their mess and leave just before the owner returns: the only sign of activity is a curious collection of nuts and seeds; the animal’s payment for the night’s fun. As the animal guests return to the wild and their previous nature, a solitary wolf cub releases their bagged goldfish into a river that leads out into the sea.
This is a witty, wordless escapade. Di Giorgio perfectly captures the dizzy, bright joy of being at the funfair, exquisitely portrayed through the animals’ movement and expressions: a remarkable feat in and of itself. Children will love to return to the evening’s dreamy sense of mystery and fun, and enjoy spotting recurring animals and humorous moments that occur throughout. For me, it was a family of stoats laughing uncontrollably at a gurning wolf who has stuck its head through a wooden Sproftacchel. A book perfect for sharing.