Robert Ingpen’s “Halloween Circus” is so good, it’s scary!

I grew up in the Soviet Union, so I think I can be forgiven for having only a vague understanding of the celebration of Halloween and its significance. Even when I moved to Australia, it was still only a minor blip on the consciousness of my adopted country. However, in recent years this yearly celebration has grown on the nation’s psyche, and (like all things American) is now wholeheartedly embraced.

Ghosts, ghouls, witches, blood-stained costumes, jack-o’-lanterns and its occult overtones aren’t my ideas of fun, and the thought of going door to door and putting your hand out for candy and treats just seemed weird. And so it was for me that Halloween had been relegated to the dumpster of popular culture that had simply passed me by…that was until I encountered this truly amazing picture book called “Halloween Circus”.

“Halloween Circus” was written by Charise Neugebauer and is brilliantly designed and illustrated by the Australian national treasure that is Robert Ingpen.

"You are Invited
midnight to dawn"

…so begins a roller-coaster of shock, horror and spooky surprises told in verse which is both visceral and engaging, and its visual storytelling so captivating that by the end, all you want to do is to go back to the beginning and start over again.

"Ghosts will fly north and east.
A celebration for the best of beasts.
South and west, bones move slow
Tombstones call to all who know"...

As long-time readers of my blog will attest, I am a huge fan of Robert Ingpen’s work, and this book is one of the many reasons why. A lot has been said by myself and others about this renowned illustrator, author, and winner of the prestigious, international Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Illustration. But the overriding appeal of this book is its most imaginative and unusual design. It’s produced with two grand posters attached to the front and endpapers that unfold to four times the size of the book to reveal a giant illustration of the magical Halloween Circus itself! The action flows out of every page-turn and reveals something unexpected, unpredictable and unforgettable.

"A black cat stares an evil smile.
A small child dreams for a little while.
The fog rolls in. The child is gone.
There's a Halloween circus
at the graveyard lawn."

There are visual references to some all-time-favourite book characters, along with fairy folk that spill from the Halloween pumpkin: a petrified Pinocchio, the White Rabbit from Wonderland clutching the ’31 October’ calendar page, the unicorn, the dragon, the griffon, the Australian Gnomes of Robert Ingpen and the less obvious allusions (does anyone else see the “Wizard of Oz” and the “Treasure Island” folk?). The character appearances from other books illustrated by Robert Ingpen are a fan’s delight.

“Halloween Circus” is written to be read out loud. My nine year old loved hearing it read slowly, in a low eerie voice interspersed with sudden and startling sound effects. We both felt a little disappointed at the final lines:

"The sun is rising. Our fun must fade.
But we will return for the next year's parade."

"So until we meet again next year,
Think of us without fear.
Ghosts are dreams. We're nothing more.
And without your dreams, life is such a bore!"

Coming to its end is an opportune moment to go back to the title page and get invited to the whole party again… “midnight to dawn”:


Unfortunately, this book is out of print but can be found in some local Australian libraries. For those keen to own it though, a second-hand copy can be hunted down at (this is where mine came from).

Happy Horrible Halloween Read-Aloud!

To read more about Robert Ingpen and see other of his books click here.

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2 years ago

Love the “fold out” illustration idea and to be 4 times the size of the book… fabulous!! The added bonus here is the illustrations are all done by my all time favourite illustrator, the famous Robert Ingpen… I am on a mission now to buy this out of print little gem ?… Once again Kids Book Explorer another informative and well researched book… Petal

2 years ago

What a superb book!!

Really intriguing.

Your ancestors might have had similar autumn equinox traditions though 😉

Many peoples did, including the Slavs. The celebration of Dziady, Де́ды or дзя́ды – when the departed ancestors would visit. The living descendants would provide food: honey, buckwheat, eggs, kutia and vodka. In some area, the ancestors also had to be able to take a bath, so for this occasion a sauna was prepared. Adam Mickiewicz, the famous Polish poet, even wrote a series of plays about these Slavic customs…

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