Reviews /

The Clown Said No

Authored by Mischa Damjan
Illustrated by Torben Kuhlmann
Published by North South Books

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Originally published in 1961 this fourth edition of The Clown Said No, now with new illustrations, contains a theme as relevant today as it was sixty years ago.

The story opens with a double page spread depicting a traditional circus scene that would have been familiar to children in the 1960s. Crowds of people flock into the Big Top around which we can see classic cars of the era and, more relevant to the story, in the background a selection of animals. As the ringmaster welcomes the crowd to the show the curtains are pulled back to reveal a clown sitting upon a donkey. But then, as the crowd waits expectantly and the ringmaster becomes irritated, the donkey and the clown stay still and quiet. The ringmaster cries to the clown to move but then Petronius the clown quietly says, no. This moment of rebellion has been brought about because Petronius is tired of entertaining by playing the fool. He wants to tell stories and the donkey wants to listen to them. Gradually the other animals refuse to perform too; no more tricks, no more costumes. Together the animals disappear into the forest. 

What follows is slightly unexpected but has greater impact because of this. Although the animals have rebelled against the ringmaster there are aspects of what they did in the circus that they enjoyed. So, they set off to earn enough money to start their own circus where they can do the things that they are comfortable and happy to do rather than what they are told to do by others. So, the Circus for Children and Poets is born with music, stories and dance performed by happy creatures and enjoyed by the audience of children and parents. The double page spread at the end of the story shows Petronius and his animal friends, now happy and welcoming others in front of their circus tent. 

There are times when it is important to stand up for your rights and remain true to what you know is right for you and this story illustrates this rather tenderly for children. This would work well in the classroom as a prompt for discussion on rights, responsibilities, self-confidence, and self-esteem. The circus environment would have been more recognisable for children when this story was first published but still has meaning for today’s readers. The length and style of the story make this probably more suitable for slightly older children, YR 2 upwards. 

The illustrations for this new edition have a traditional feel which is fitting for the setting of the story. The styles of the 1960s are evident in the cars outside the circus, the street scenes etc making an interesting topic of conversation about social changes with children. The muted colours and the use of light and dark, particularly in the campfire scene are lovely. A gentle picture book but one with a valuable message.