CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 22 . . . . February 10, 2012
Joni Mitchell's The Circle Game was written in 1966 and first recorded by Canadian folksinger Buffy Saint-Marie. In 1970, the celebrated musician's third album, Ladies of the Canyon, included this best known and well-beloved song. Today's readers of this beautiful children's book can, thanks to Youtube, return to an era when folk music and Joni Mitchell were in full flower, as they listen to a live recording made in 1972 of Mitchell singing "The Circle Game" at Carnegie Hall. What a pleasure it is to listen to the song while turning the pages of the book and taking in Brian Deines' stunningly vibrant illustrations!
A gifted artist, Brian Deines has received many award nominations for his illustrations of Canadian children's books. In The Circle Game, he has created a series of wonderfully evocative paintings to match the lyrics of Mitchell's famous song, with a dozen double-page illustrations depicting the journey of a young boy, "captive on the carousel of time" as he moves from boyhood to adulthood. In Deines' use of alternating bright and dark coloured circle-spotted backgrounds for each painting, he seems to be suggesting that the cycle of night and day is a match for the carousel, Mitchell's central metaphor for life.
The book concludes with a page outlining Joni Mitchell's accomplishments and her importance to our culture and an opposing page devoted to information about Brian Deines and his many artistic successes. On the last page of the book, an Internet address is given so that readers may enjoy listening to a recording of Joni Mitchell's classic song. It is interesting to note that there is a difference between the words of the song as it is performed in the 1972 Carnegie Hall rendition by the singer and the lyrics that appear in this publication of The Circle Game. It might be worthwhile to point out to young listeners that variation in wording is a characteristic of folk songs.
The Circle Game is a marvellous marriage of textual and visual artistry which is best enhanced with a performance of the song, if not by way of a recording by Joni Mitchell, herself, then by an adult reader who has enough musical memory and lack of self-consciousness to sing to a young audience! At twenty dollars, if there is a reasonable amount of money available to the elementary school librarian for Canadian picture books, The Circle Game certainly deserves to take its place on the shelf.
Valerie Nielsen, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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