December 19, 2011

The Circle Game

Text by Joni Mitchell
Illustrations by Brian Deines
Dancing Cat Books
32 pp.
Ages 3-6

Turning song lyrics into children's books is not unusual, especially for those tunes that were originally written for children such as nursery rhymes and camp-fire songs.  There are wonderful children's performers like Eddie Douglas who take poetry (e.g., Dennis Lee's poems from Alligator Pie (Macmillan, 1974), Garbage Delight (Macmillan, 1977),  Jelly Belly (Macmillan, 1983) and The Ice Cream Store (HarperCollins, 1991) and adapt it for children's music.  But, in Canada, we don't have a long history of taking the poetry in song or hymn lyrics and adding graphics to produce children's books. Until now, I can only think of two such songs:
  • The Huron Carol by Father Jean de Brebeuf, illustrated by Frances Tyrrell (Key Porter, 2003) 
  • The Huron Carol by Father Jean de Brebeuf, illustrated by Ian Wallace (Groundwood, 2006)
  • Canadian Railroad Trilogy by Gordon Lightfoot, illustrated by Ian Wallace (Groundwood, 2010)
Now we can add Joni Mitchell's song, The Circle Game, to that list. 

The lyrics of Canadian-born Mitchell's song describe growing up and looking forward to new experiences, apparently in response to Neil Young's lament of lost youth in "Sugar Mountain". (1) The honest but hopeful words are beautifully embodied by Deines' paintings in complementary colours of purples and oranges.  Although impossible to tell whether Deines' medium is oil or pastel on canvas, the softness of his illustrations, whether the warm joys of capturing a dragonfly or the dark tremors of thunder and falling stars, always with uniquely dotted backgrounds, capably expresses the joys with the uneasiness of new experiences.  Moreover, just as our perspective of these experiences change as we grow up (dare I say it, age), so does the view of and from the carousel, never allowing one to return but accessible in our memories.

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