One day, a mysterious stranger arrives at a boardinghouse of the widow Gateau- a sad-faced stranger, who keeps to himself. When the widow's daughter, Mirette, discovers him crossing the courtyard on air, she begs him to teach her how he does it.
But Mirette doesn't know that the stranger was once the Great Bellini- master wire-walker. Or that Bellini has been stopped by a terrible fear. And it is she who must teach him courage once again.
Emily Arnold McCully's sweeping watercolor paintings carry the reader over the rooftops of nineteenth-century Paris and into an elegant, beautiful world of acrobats, jugglers, mimes, actors, and one gallant, resourceful little girl.
In this picture book set in 19th-century Paris, a child helps a daredevil who has lost his edge to regain his confidence. Many traveling performers stay at Madame Gateaux's boarding house, but Mme.'s daughter Mirette is particularly taken with one guest--the quiet gentleman who can walk along the clothesline without falling off. Mirette implores the boarder to teach her his craft, not knowing that her instructor is the ``Great Bellini'' of high wire fame. After much practice the girl joins Bellini on the wire as he conquers his fear and demonstrates to all of Paris that he is still the best. McCully's story has an exciting premise and starting point, but unfortunately ends up as a missed opportunity. Bellini's anxiety may be a bit sophisticated for the intended audience and, surprisingly, the scenes featuring Mirette and Bellini on the high wire lack drama and intensity. McCully's rich palette and skillful renderings of shadow and light sources make this an inviting postcard from the Old World. Ages 4-8.