Caldecott winners are great tools in any elementary classroom. Use Mirette on the High Wire to inspire an art lesson, as a springboard for a writing lesson and a movement activity.
Artists who have created the most distinguished picture books according to the Association of Library Service to Children are Caldecott Winners. Emily Arnold McCully is certainly deserving of this award for Mirette on the High Wire. Her watercolor illustrations depicting Paris in the late 1800’s sets a perfect tone for the story.
Mirette meets Bellini, a high-wire walker, and decides it is something she wants to do. Readers will learn that Mirette has a determined spirit. Bellini is not a perfect hero and role model. The two help each other. Students will discuss story vocabulary, practice gross motor skills, write about their own dreams and more.
New Words and Interesting Phrases
The book does not have page numbers so I have counted the pages with writing on them to give you the location of the following phrases. Read the phrase in the context of the entire entry on the page. Discuss with your students what the phrase means.
Page 4: “her feet tingled" What would cause this to happen?
Page 7: “arms flailed like windmills" What a precise description!
Page 14: “nerves of an iceberg" What does this mean?
Page 20: “her heart hammered in her chest" Why?
devoured- eat hungrily or quickly
acrobats- gymnastic entertainer
boardinghouse-provides a room and meals for a price
vagabond-a person who wanders from place to place
leeks- plant related to an onion
trance-half-conscious state, absent of response
1.What kind of person was Mirette? List the ways that support your statement.
Most children will feel that Mirette is a determined person. She works hard to help her mother run the boardinghouse. She did not give up when she began practicing the high-wire walking. She got up earlier to complete her chores so she could practice.
2.Did she have any faults or weaknesses? Once she became very good at high-wire walking, she boasted that she would never fall again.
3. How did Mirette and Bellini help each other? Bellini taught the girl high-wire skills and to be humble. Mirette helped Bellini regain his confidence. He did not want to disappoint her or lose her respect so he got back up on the high-wire.
You may have access to a low- to- the-floor type of balance beam. If so, use it for this activity. If not, use masking tape to tape down 3 or 4 yard sticks in a straight line in your classroom or hallway. You may also just tape down the masking tape in a straight line.
Have your students try these movements and try to imagine how Mirette felt to be on the wire high above the crowd.
1. Walk along the path with arms outstretched.
2. Walk along the path with arms at your sides.
3. Walk along the path balancing a book on your head.
4. Walk backwards on the path.
5. Invent another way to move and stay on the path.
Turn page by page and discuss only McCully’s artwork. Note the shadows. What subjects are clear and what are blurred?
Use watercolor paints or tempera paint mixed with soap powder. Provide large white sheets of paper and old newspapers to cover the work area. Paper plates can be used as palettes.
Instruct the students to try to paint a picture in the style of McCully. Painting people may be difficult so suggest painting buildings, storefronts or landscapes.
When Bellini first sees Mirette on the high wire, he says, “In the beginning everyone falls. Most give up. But you kept trying." A determined spirit is necessary to fulfill a dream or a goal.
1. Instruct your students to write about a dream or goal they may have that would require determination. What can they do to achieve the goal? Are they willing to do what it takes?
2. Instruct the student to write about a “hero" (who do they admire) that they have. It could be a living or deceased person, famous or someone they know personally. What characteristics does the person have? What weaknesses?
There are so many ways to use Caldecott winners in your classroom. Mirette on the High Wire is a great example. Your students can learn some new words, set goals and dreams, investigate their heroes, do some movement activities and paint a pictures. It's an award winner!