Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mirette on the High Wire, by Emily Arnold McCully

This book tells the story of a young girl who lives in the bright and festive city of Paris, at the peak of the city’s cultural and entertainment climax. Mirette’s mother owns an Inn, and she houses guests of many talents and nationalities, including Monsieur Bellini, the greatest tight rope walker of the age. Mirette cannot help but yearn for the chance to walk the HighWire, and she slowly learns to walk along the wire, with Bellini teaching her. In the end, however, Mirette and Bellini both learn more than just the High Wire.

Mirette accidentally spies the newest of her mother’s tenants walking on a high wire in the alley behind the Inn. Mirette is fascinated, and decides to try it herself. Though she fails at first, she works hard to practice, while still getting her chores done every day. Bellini finally sees her, and agrees to give her lessons, since she is so persistent. Then, one night, Mirette discovers that Bellini had done amazing things, like cook pancakes above a waterfall, cross the Alps with baskets tied to his feet, and other such daring deeds, balanced only on the high wire. She runs in to Bellini, to ask why he had never told her of his adventures. “Because I am afraid… Once you have fear on the wire, it never leaves.” He had refused to try anything outstanding on the High Wire for years. Finally, however, Bellini agrees to try once more over the streets of Paris. But when he steps out onto the wire, he is too afraid. Then, Mirette walks out on the other side of the wire. They meet in the middle and the future is made of the both of them.

In this highly imaginative story, the illustrations match nicely with their impressionistic style. One does not see any clear pictures, but one sees the girl struggling every day to walk the wire. One can see expressions on the faces of the crowds, but the little details are left to the imaginations of the readers. The story would be excellent for reading aloud to children with active imaginations, who would most certainly spend the rest of the day, pretending to perform amazing deeds of skill and courage on a high wire.

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