While some books light paths with their words, other books don’t need words to shine. Gideon Sterer and and Mariachiara Di Giorgio’s The Midnight Fair may be a wordless picture book, but its story is clear, compelling and utterly enchanting.
When trucks and trailers arrive at an open field, forest animals watch their home transform into a lively carnival, complete with roller coasters, games and throngs of people. But when the crowds leave for the night, the carnival truly comes to life. Raccoons and bears ride the roller coaster, their arms in the air as it rockets down the track. A deer exchanges a sprig of berries for French fries at the concession stand. A fox plays the ring-toss game (run by a deer) and wins a goldfish in a plastic bag for a prize. The animals crash bumper cars and wave to one another as they whirl by on the carousel.
Through clever use of framing and perspective, Sterer and Di Giorgio invite readers to be a part of each moment. We watch from above as furry friends spin in teacups below. We’re behind the counter as an earnest baby bear pushes his acorns toward us to buy a tantalizing pink and white ice cream cone. When dawn arrives, the animals vanish into the forest; the entire evening might have been a dream if not for the nuts and twigs bursting from every cash bucket as the watchman makes his morning rounds.
Despite all the merriment, The Midnight Fair is much more than a cute story about animals having fun. It’s entertaining and clever, but it never devolves into flippancy or silliness. Unhampered by the solidity and clarity of text, it maintains an ethereal aura of mystery and a sense of quiet dignity not often found in picture books with anthropomorphic animal protagonists.
Every inch of illustrator Di Giorgio’s art is captivating, from a scene in which the silhouetted creatures’ eyes glow in the dusk as they emerge from the woods to a poignant moment by the lake near the story’s end. But when the carnival lights come on, her illustrations become truly spellbinding. Gleaming and golden, The Midnight Fair radiates magic. It’s truly exceptional.