Last Night I Dreamed a Circus

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Many children dream of going to the circus, but our narrator dreams herself right into the act. She is the graceful horseback rider and the clown. The daring trapeze artist and the dancing dog. The contortionist and the roaring lion.
These stars of the circus are depicted in splendid, dramatic portraits by noted watercolorist Robert Rahway Zakanitch. Each vividly colored performer is set against a black background that invokes both a life in the spotlight and the focused ...
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Overview

Many children dream of going to the circus, but our narrator dreams herself right into the act. She is the graceful horseback rider and the clown. The daring trapeze artist and the dancing dog. The contortionist and the roaring lion.
These stars of the circus are depicted in splendid, dramatic portraits by noted watercolorist Robert Rahway Zakanitch. Each vividly colored performer is set against a black background that invokes both a life in the spotlight and the focused landscape of dreams. Poetic and spare, the text invites readers to extend the story in their own imaginations–in their own circus dreams.

A young girl dreams of being part of the circus.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gottfried's meditative debut is accompanied by the artwork of fine artist Zakanitch, also a newcomer to children's books. Evocative watercolors of circus folk in full regalia suggest a slow-motion performance. The parade of acrobats and animals begins with the title words, "Last night I dreamed a circus," offset by an image of a man doing a one-handed handstand on horseback. "I spun circles round the stars," the text continues, alongside a woman who grips a rope in her teeth and whirls like a corkscrew. "I twisted in knots" pictures a contortionist in an exotic red-and-white bodysuit. "And I laughed" features a startling, grinning chimpanzee in feather headgear and a dress, hanging from parallel hoops. Zakanitch poses the characters in spangled tights, skin-tight costumes with curlicues and (in one case) a magnificent patterned cape which alludes to Alexandre Benois's and L on Bakst's costume designs for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The artist enfolds his performers in heavy black or midnight-blue backgrounds, so that they seem at once spotlit and suspended in tar; the trapeze artists are sealed in space, while other performers stand rigidly as though taking a bow. Likewise, Gottfried's placid, unrhymed lines end firmly in periods, arresting the action on each page and building up inertia. These characters don't fly through the air with the greatest of ease, but their fanciful procession plus Zakanitch's extravagant costumes should garner some oohs and aahs. Ages 3-6. (Jan.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
In her very first book for children, Gottfried presents an outstanding maiden effort. Using a simple poem, we are led through the images of a child's dream about the circus. We begin with the title words, "Last night I dreamed a circus," accompanied by an acrobat doing a one-handed handstand on horseback. "I spun circles round the stars," is paired with an aerialist spinning on a cord held in her teeth. The illustrations are bright, bold watercolors with black or blue backgrounds that make the images appear to jump of the page. "I wore the sunset on a velvet cape," gives us an image of an acrobat resplendent in a cape that calls to mind a truly spectacular sunset. Gottfried's text, an unhurried, non-rhyming poem, flows with a dreamlike quality. At the end, we read, "I rode atop the elephant of the seven seas. And it carried me home." The circus theme and arresting illustrations will certainly encourage circus dreams. 2003, Random House Children's books,
— Sharon Oliver
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 2-Dramatic artwork and a brief text combine to make a visually intriguing, although fairly static story that nevertheless evokes the otherworldliness of the circus. Each sentence accompanies a full-page painting that depicts a colorfully costumed performer set against a black background. For example, "I spun circles round the stars," is paired with the image of a woman dangling in midair from a rope held between her teeth. Other characters include a clown, a lion tamer, and a bird handler, while the only double-page spread shows a man swinging upside down on a trapeze, his arms stretched out to catch a flying acrobat. The dream setting, along with the momentous pronouncements of the narrator ("I wore the sunset on a velvet cape. And carried the birds that sang the sky") and the expressionistic illustrations create a somewhat mystical impression. Some readers may find this book textured enough to visit more than once, but others may feel impatient with such solemnity applied to a circus theme. For livelier stories about imaginary participation in events under the big top, try Marjorie Priceman's Emeline at the Circus (Knopf, 1999) and Ian Falconer's Olivia Saves the Circus (Atheneum, 2001).-Kathie Meizner, Montgomery County Public Libraries, Chevy Chase, MD Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A circus fantasy comes to life in this unexpectedly dramatic work. Recounting a dream, the narrator pronounces that last night she juggled, flew, and roared. The text is a poem, really, its verses sprinkled delicately through the pages, maximizing the rhythm and pop of its lines. Gottfried’s musings are abstract, made literal with Zakanitch’s illustrations: the line "I spun circles round the stars" appears opposite an image of a young woman twirling from a rope amid the midnight blue of the page. The watercolor illustrations are lovely, but they are dark (with consuming black backgrounds), and could be frightening if perceived as dangerous rather than dreamlike. Both Gottfreid and Zakanitch are delving into children’s literature for the first time, and while there is no doubt that the prose is inspired and the artwork enchanting, their style is quite sophisticated for a picture book audience. Luckily, the topic is familiar and interesting, thus, while this is not a good choice for children on the meek or literal side, it would be a magical experience for mature and imaginative young readers. (Picture book. 4-7)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375823886
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 1/14/2003
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 6 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.87 (w) x 11.37 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

This is both Maya Gottfried’s and Robert Rahway Zakanitch’s first book for children.
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