We did what was essentially two different activities over the course of three days, so I'm just going to talk about them in terms of activities as opposed to what we did when.
Mirette on the High Wire is the story of a girl in Paris who learns how to walk on the high wire after a retired high wire artist, Bellini, comes to live at her mother's boarding house. Through teaching Mirette, Bellini manages to work past the fear that had forced him to retire and they end up on tour together. I chose this book because I had sold K on the idea of studying Paris, but not on Madeline, and this also takes place in Paris. But you can't study Mirette without covering the circus, which has added huge amounts of excitement to our week.
After reading Mirette, the first book on the circus we pulled out was Peter Spier's Circus. Peter Spier has long been a family favorite for the fascinating level of detail he puts in his illustrations, and Circus is no exception. We spent a long time looking and pointing out interesting things. Then two non-fiction books on the circus, and The Greatest Elephant in the World, which on cursory inspection was about a circus elephant, but actually reading it revealed it had almost no information on the circus and was pretty depressing to boot. We ended with Olivia Saves the Circus, a Mr. Rogers dvd on the circus and a Reading Rainbow episode with a section on high wire artists.
I found out last weekend that Philadelphia actually has a circus school, but I was sad to discover when I checked their website that it was a couple weeks too late to see any performances this year. I will definitely be keeping my eye out next spring for anything I can take K to, since the circus is by far best experienced in person.
Our second activity was exploring the physics of balance. We read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, the story of a man who disguised himself as a construction worker to snuck up to the top of the Twin Towers and string a rope between them so he could walk it (I was a little worried about the awkward questions that might come up since the book does end by saying the towers are no longer standing, but thankfully, K was too incensed by the injustice of Philippe being arrested to really register that part). We looked at the pictures in that and Mirette, and looked at the poles they used for balance. I pulled out a marker and first asked K to try to balance it on her finger standing up, which she couldn't do, and then with it lying down, which she eventually got. I took the cap off the marker and had her look at where it balanced versus where it balanced with the cap on. I think she got a pretty good understanding of balance without having to use terms like "center of mass."
Then we went to a local playground where there are some balance beams so K could try some balancing herself. She needed a bit of help to walk the beam initially, but she was fairly successful with the pole from our Swiffer. I asked her to try to lean as far over as she could and still stay balanced, and we saw how her hips leaned out in the other direction to compensate. Then her brother made his lack of nap known and we had to go home before she could spend as much time as she wanted perfecting her high wire act.
Mirette on the High Wire by Emily McCully
Peter Spier's Circus! by Peter Spier
The World's Greatest Elephant by Ralph Helfer
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein
Olivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer
Big-Top Circus by Neil Johnson
The Circus Comes Home by Lois Duncan