Mirette on the High Wire, by Emily Arnold McCully, is the story of a young girl, Mirette,who grows up in a Paris boardinghouse where performers often took lodging. When a wire walker named Bellini arrives and sets up a practice wire across the courtyard, Mirette can only think of one thing – walking on the wire herself! She practices and practices and begins to learn to walk on the wire before she finds out Bellini’s secret, that he had become afraid of the high wire and no longer performs. In order to not disappoint Mirette, Bellini decides to try one more performance, but freezes at the last minute. Mirette saves the day by walking out on the wire to meet him.
Mirette is a good story for a beginning of the year introduction to the basic story elements of plot, characterization, and setting. With the high wire and a young protagonist who saves the day, there is plenty of suspense, and students should be able to easily map out the plot. Both Mirette, the main character, and Bellini, an important minor character, have interesting character traits that should lend themselves to a good introduction to characterization. And the setting, “One hundred years ago in Paris,” is one that students should enjoy learning about. The illustrations are full of interesting details, but also bright and colorful, making this book a good choice for a teacher read-aloud to the whole class.
Mirette is also a good story for teaching persistence, a character quality that many teachers like to spend a little time on at the beginning of the school year. The first time Mirette tried walking on the wire, she fell off, but she didn’t give up. After ten tries, she could balance for a few seconds. Then, she began to get up two hours early each morning to practice before doing her chores. After much more practice, she could finally walk the length of a wire. But practice wasn’t finished yet; Bellini had Mirette keep practicing until she could cross dozens of times without falling before he began teaching her to be a real performer.
This story and its illustrations are beautifully done. Students will enjoy listening to Mirette on the High Wire and examining the pictures – a good beginning for a discussion of its story elements and the character qualities that Mirette displays.
Linked with Story Sunday at Elizabeth-Elle Lifelong Learning and with Reading Toward the Stars for Book Talk Thursday.