Hi, friends. I love when a real-life passion fuels a story. Any book that results from that is truly a labor of love and feels like so much more than “just” a story. It feels like a part of us, pulled into the light from way down deep. Such is the case with Lisa Robinson’s debut book. When I heard what sparked this one, I jumped at the chance to have her come and share it with all of you. Take it away, Lisa!
I’m honored to be hosted on Picture Book Builders, a blog I have long followed . . .
Some of the best stories grow out of our obsessions and passions. The fire of our enthusiasm helps us persist with the arduous work of writing and revising a story . . . and then taking it to publication (another complicated, obstacle-filled endeavor). Jill invited me to tell the story of how my passion for circus led to my book, Madame Saqui, Revolutionary Ropedancer (Schwartz & Wade), gorgeously illustrated by Rebecca Green.
In 2010, I took my family to see Circus Smirkus, an animal-free, acrobatic youth circus troupe that tours New England during the summer. We were so awed by their artistry and skill that we left with a new passion—circus arts—and the wish to run away with the circus! Since running away with the circus wasn’t a realistic option, we immediately sought out our local circus studio, Moody Street Circus, as well as another aerial arts instructor, Molly Baechtold, and embarked upon our circus journey.
My daughters and I practice circus skills three to four times a week (pre-pandemic)—from juggling to tight wire to aerial arts. Our favorite activity is aerial silks where we can dangle and flip and twirl and soar.
During the summer, I enviously send my daughters to Circus Smirkus camp where they spend several weeks doing circus arts all day long. (3. insert circus tent photo here) Who doesn’t want to go to circus camp?!
Even now, during the pandemic, we try to keep up our skills by hanging a silk from our swingset (not high enough to do many tricks, but we still get to play), walking the tight wire in our backyard, and staying fit with Zoom conditioning classes with our circus instructors.
How did this lead me to Madame Saqui? Eager to learn some circus history, I read a book, The Ordinary Acrobat. In it, I read a brief story about a Marguerite-Antoinette Saqui, a woman who wirewalked during the French Revolutionary era. I already knew about Philippe Petit, the man who walked between the Twin Towers, and Charles Blondin, the acrobat who wirewalked over Niagara Falls. But here was an unknown woman whose daring feats came well before these two. I wanted to learn more.
As I researched her life, I discovered that she started wirewalking as a child.
She went on to walk between the towers of Notre Dame and over the Seine.
She wore scandalous costumes that revealed her ankles, and dared to own and manage a circus arts theater, something not done by women at that time. She was also bold enough to speak sharp words of protest to Napoleon when he ordered her not to wirewalk during a storm. This was clearly a story that needed to be told.
In addition to Saqui’s colorful and unconventional life, what also resonated with me was her determination to follow her dream. Although I love my career as a psychiatrist, I only recently gave myself permission to pursue a long submerged dream: to write and bring a book into the world. Saqui’s tenacity encouraged me to keep going in spite of what felt like a steep learning curve (this was my first nonfiction project) and a lot of rejection.
Madame Saqui also inspired me to learn to wirewalk well enough to perform a wirewalking act in bookstores dressed as Madame Saqui . . .
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic interfered with that plan. However, when we are able to gather in bookstores again, I plan to take my show on the road!
You can watch a sample of the show I planned for bookstores on YouTube. For some fun book-related activities, check out Curious City’s site for a cutout Madame Saqui craft as well as a DIY wirewalking experience in your own living room. You can learn more about me and my books at my website.
For more of Rebecca Green’s work, check out her website, here.
I hope Madame Saqui’s story inspires you to follow your passion, tell a good story, and perhaps even wirewalk, too!
Jill, here. Lisa has agreed to do a book giveaway! For a chance to win a signed copy of Madame Saqui, Revolutionary Rope Dancer, just leave a comment below. Thanks, Lisa! (U.S. residents only, please.) Meanwhile, the winners of Maria Gianferrari’s fab books, Whoo-Ku AND Play Like an Animal, in last month’s post giveaway, are Jennifer Merrifield and Kathy Halsey! Congrats, ladies!