“One evening a tall sad-faced stranger arrived. He told Madame Gâteau he was Bellini, a retired high-wire walker.” Imagine if you were a child living in a boarding house and someone arrived introducing themselves as “a retired high-wire walker.” They would seem like the most interesting person in the world!
The next day, as Mirette is doing the laundry, she sees him walking across the laundry line. Mirette is enchanted and asks Bellini to please teach her how to walk the high-wire. He refuses, so she tries to learn herself. After a lot of falling, she is ready to show Bellini what she has accomplished and after watching her efforts, he agrees to teach her. One evening, Bellini’s presence is noticed by a theater agent and the stories of Bellini’s great feats come out. But Bellini has stopped walking the high wire. He is afraid.
Not wanting to disappoint Mirette, he decides to try one more act across the Paris skyline and he arranges with the agent to have a performance. Mirette hears the commotion on the street and goes out to see the cause of the hubbub. “Bellini stepped out onto the wire and saluted the crowd. He took a step and then froze…” Mirette is determined to help him, but what will she do and will it be enough?
My son loved Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully and was very excited to read it again on several subsequent nights. We loved the changing perspectives in the illustrations. You see Mirette trying to balance from the side, looking up from the ground as if you were in the audience, looking down at Bellini as if you were on the high wire. You couldn’t help but feel part of the story. If you have a child working on conquering a fear, this is a great story of perseverance and the frustration on Mirette’s face as she tries to learn to walk the high wire is very easy to relate to for anyone who has struggled to learn a new skill. If you’d like to catch a traditional circus act while you’re in Paris, try the Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione, a winter circus that has been performing since 1852.