The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lisa Robinson & Review of Madame Saqui: Revolutionary Rop

Most recently, I have taken up aerial silks

and you can find me flying through the air at my local circus gym.

~ Lisa Robinson

Lisa is a psychiatrist who works with children, teens, and adults and a children's book author. She has an MFA in Creative Writing for Young People from Lesley University. She lives in the Boston area with her family and three cats. When she's not working or writing she's flying through the air with her daughters on aerial silks at her local circus studio. She lives in Massachusetts with my scientist husband, two daughters, and a family of cats, the Spice Cats—Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Paprika.

Her picture books include, Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten, (8/2019) and Pippa’s Night Parade (10/2019). Her first nonfiction picture book, Madame Saqui: Revolutionary Ropedancer, releases March 24th.

For some basic information on Lisa, check out our earlier interview (here).

Lisa, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest picture book.

What was your inspiration for Madame Saqui: Revolutionary Ropedancer?

My family loves circus arts and we all do aerial arts as well as tightwire and juggling. When I was reading a book about circus history, The Ordinary Acrobat, by Duncan Wall, I came across a brief description of Madame Saqui, a French woman who wirewalked during the revolutionary era. I wanted to learn more, but I found very little information about her.

Finally, I found a biography online, but it was in French. I couldn’t find anyone to translate it and almost gave up on the project. Then, I learned that the amazing Melinda Pavlata, owner and director of Moody Street Circus where we practice circus arts, has a PhD in Medieval French Literature and is fluent in French. She was interested in learning about Saqui and willing to translate the book for me.

I love how sometimes things just seem to meant to be. Your first two books were funny fiction picture books. How much harder was it to write a nonfiction?

This book was my first foray into nonfiction, and I thought it would be my only one. I soon discovered that I love nonfiction and now I have two additional nonfiction picture books coming out: Were I Not A Girl: The Inspiring Story of Dr. James Barry (Schwartz and Wade/Random House Fall 2020) and The Sweetest Scoop: Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Revolution (Abrams, Spring 2021).

I did have to learn all kinds of new skills: researching a topic thoroughly, documenting sources, and creatively presenting factual material. Fiction and nonfiction present different challenges but ultimately both of them require an engaging story.

What a fascinating cover! I am so looking forward to the one on ice cream! Did you need to include any art notes?

I did include art notes. Most of them provided historical details about the setting or clothing. Madame Saqui wore a wonderful ostrich feather headdress for many of her performances!

I could see where notes could be helpful. Do you have a favorite spread or image?

Text © Lisa Robinson, 2020. Image © Rebecca Green, 2020

My favorite illustration is the one where the reader sees Marguerite (young Madame Saqui) from above while she’s dancing on a rope. The artist, Rebecca Green, captures her expression of joy so beautifully!

That is beautiful! I know you had a pretty unusual launch party planned, which has been (like so many things) disrupted by the Covid-19 virus. Sorry. Can you tell us about it?

With the help of Melinda Pavlata, I planned a petite circus event with performances by my daughters and their friends, including aerial silks, trapeze, corde lisse (rope), cloud swing, and lyra.

I was going to read the book and then perform a low tightwire act dressed as Madame Saqui (wearing an ostrich feather headdress designed by another awesome aerial artist, Molly Baechtold!).

But the show will go on! We will still have the show without an audience and videotape it so others can see. And once it’s safe to have a gathering, we will have the launch party as planned. If you’d like to see me walking the wire, there’s a short video of me practicing for my Madame Saqui performance on my Instagram feed.

Good for you! I can't wait to see this show if you post it. Is there something you want your readers to know about Madame Saqui?

This book was a passion project for me and it was awesome how the stars aligned in so many ways; first, when Melinda Pavlata, my dear friend and circus arts teacher offered to translate the biography of Saqui, and then, when my editor, Anne Schwartz, told my agent she wanted to acquire it as she on her way to vacation in Paris—where she could imagine Saqui’s daring feats. Also, I would never have taken up wirewalking if I hadn’t written this book. Now I wirewalk every day and I love having it as part of my daily routine.

Wow! How long did it take to go from the idea for Madame Saqui to contract and publication?

It took about 2-1/2 years from contract to publication.

Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I am currently working on a middle grade novel. It’s almost ready for my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, to send out on submission. I have another nonfiction picture book I’m working on as well as a couple of fiction picture books.

Thank you, Lisa for stopping by and sharing with us. It was great to chat with you again.

To find out more about Lisa Robinson, or get in touch with her:

Website: https://author-lisa-robinson.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/elisaitw

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/author_lisarobinson/

Review of Madame Saqui: Revolutionary Ropedancer

Our world is full of so many amazing and extraordinary people. I was excited to find a new nonfiction picture book about a little-known woman who loved dancing and performing on a tightrope. A woman who performed well into her seventies - and never fell.

I know you will be amazed by the revolutionary woman in this biography and captivated by the gorgeous illustrations. Since it doesn't release until next Tuesday, here is a sneak peek to get you excited in a wonderful new biography.

Madame Saqui: Revolutionary Ropedancer

Author: Lisa Robinson

Illustrator: Rebecca Green

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (2020)

Ages: 4-8

Nonfiction

Themes:

History, circus arts, and following your dreams.

Synopsis:

A stunning picture book biography about the tightrope walker who dazzled Paris as she danced across the sky with impeccable balance and unparalleled skill during the French Revolution. In revolutionary France, a girl named Marguerite Lalanne longed to perform above large crowds on a tightrope, just like her acrobatic parents. Sneaking off to the fairgrounds for secret tightrope walking lessons, Marguerite finessed her performance skills, ultimately performing for crowds as a young rope dancer. And eventually, Marguerite would perform as Madame Saqui, waltzing and pirouetting across- and never falling off- countless ropes above adoring crowds. A nouvelle chérie de Paris, Madame Saqui cemented her place in circus history, winning the adoration of the French people and royalty alike, including Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

This remarkable biography unveils the inspiring story of a trailblazing woman who revolutionized the circus world— without ever missing a step.

Opening lines:

In 1791, in Paris, inside le Théâtre des Grands Danseurs du Roi, five-year-old Marguerite-Antoinette Lalanne was making her debut.

She flipped.

She tumbled.

She cartwheeled. High above, her mother and father danced across a tightrope.

The crowd cheered.

Marguerite waved and bowed and vowed that one day she would dance on a tightrope, too.

What I liked about the book:

It's inspiring when someone pursues their dreams, despite family or societal pressures, and accomplishes something truly amazing. A little-known French woman, Marguerite Saqui, is just such an inspiring person.

As a five-year-old, Marguerite fell in love with the tightrope, as she watched her parents perform. After her father tumbled from the tightrope, breaking his foot, and Paris erupted in riots, the family fled to the countryside. They quit performing. But Marguerite refused to give up her dream. She secretly took lessons. When her parents witnessed her passion for the tightrope, in her debut performance, they were inspired to perform again and create a travelling circus.

Text © Lisa Robinson, 2020. Image © Rebecca Green, 2020

Set within the backdrop of the French Revolution, Marguerite's love of tightrope performing drove her to seek "higher ropes, larger crowds, bolder costumes. . . ." One night, watching a performance of the Great Forioso, she witnessed him fall. The next night, she took his place, high in the air swirling and dancing amid the fireworks. She became "the darling of Paris," "sashay[ing] across the river Seine" and walking a tightrope between Notre Dame's towers.

Text © Lisa Robinson, 2020. Image © Rebecca Green, 2020

Rebecca Green's softly muted illustrations further enhance the ethereal feel of the amazing feats that Marguerite accomplished despite thunderstorms, family deaths, and other losses. Lisa Robinson captures Marguerite's spirit, bravery, and unwavering desire to follow her dreams, making this an inspiring biography of one talented and determined lady. The author's note, and accompanying glossary of French words, introduces the reader to a bit of French history and culture. Overall, a beautiful and empowering addition to any library collection.

Resources:

- make your own "tightrope." Paint a 2″x4″ piece of wood. Now, walk across one foot in front of the other. Can you do it with a book on your head or holding an umbrella? (https://www.parents.com/fun/birthdays/themes/circus-theme-birthday-party/).

- write down or draw a picture of one of your dreams.

- draw a picture or write a story about what act you would do if could join an acrobat group.

- read Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully, about a little girl who wirewalks in 19th century Paris.


(Photo: Alexandra Grablewski)

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