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Secrets of the Cirque Medrano
Secrets of the Cirque Medrano
By author: Elaine Scott
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Binding Information: Hardback 
11  - 14
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Price: $15.95
A coming-of-age story filled with adventure and international intrigue

Brigitte's Polish father died when she was very young, and her French mother raised Brigitte in Poland. When Brigitte's mother dies after a long illness, the girl is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Pari, where she helps with the many chores involved in running Café Dominique. As Brigitte adjusts to her new life, she becomes friendly with a family of acrobats in the local Cirque Medrano and is drawn into an international intrigue that targets bohemian artists and writers, such as Picasso and Apollinaire, as well as such political insurgents as Henri, the Russian kitchen worker at the café who has revolutionary leanings. In this coming-of-age story, Brigitte's desire for adventure is more than sated, and she learns to find gratification in her new life with her new family.

Elaine Scott vividly recreates the drama and excitement that charged the intellectual world of avant-garde artists and writers in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century.

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  • Awards
  • Bank Street College's The Best Children's Books of the Year

  • Reviews
      Kirkus Reviews - December 15, 2007
    This lively tale, set in 1904, follows 14-year-old Brigitte, whose French mother has died in Warsaw, after which she is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Paris. Brigitte is impulsive and lonely. She doesn't see much of Montmartre or Paris itself, for she works long hours serving in the caf. She is fascinated by the Cirque Medrano, a circus pitched in Montmartre, and its jugglers and acrobats, and also by the young Picasso, who hangs out at her aunt's caf with his bande of writers and artists. Scott ties the story of the circus (the source of Picasso's Family of Saltimbanques), the growth of the Russian Secret Police in Paris and the change in Montmartre from village to a vibrant part of the city to Brigitte's adjustment to her new life. The language is sometimes jarringly modern, and there is not a lot of character development, but it places an interesting historical moment within the grasp of middle-schoolers.
      Booklist - January 15, 2008
    Great art often seems to have a story behind it, and Scott has imagined a suspenseful one about the circus acrobats featured in Picasso's Family of Saltambiques. After her mother's death, 14-year-old Brigitte is taken in by her bourgeois aunt Dominique, who runs a Montmartre cafe frequented by Picasso, his friends, and a mysterious Russian diplomat. Discontented with her new life, and thrilled by the attentions of a young acrobat, impulsive Brigitte longs to join the circus. She also dreams of solving the mystery behind the disappearance of one of the performers. Many readers will identify with hardworking but unhappy Brigitte, who successfully pursues her circus dream but narrowly escapes from the predicaments her spying creates. An author's note explains a little more about art and intrigue in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century. An agreeable introduction to an unusual political, artistic, and social world.
      Parent Wise Austin - February 1, 2008
    After her mother's death, 14-year-old Brigitte is sent to Paris to live with her aunt and uncle. Everything about her new life seems strange, but helping to run the Cafe Dominque also allows for some interesting opportunities for a young girl. Paris in 1904 provides a backdrop that includes the beginnings of the Russian revolution, and the cafe where Brigitte works attracts a bohemian crowd of avant-garde artists, circus performers, anarchists, diplomats, and spies. When Brigitte's friend, Paco, a young acrobat from the famous Cirque Medrano who has posed for Picasso's painting, becomes involved in political intrigue, Brigitte learns a lot about herself and the meaning of family and home. Scott's historical novel for readers in fifth-through-ninth grades was inspired by Picasso's famous painting, Family of Saltimbanques, and mixes history, mystery, and art into an interesting story of amazing adventures that will keep pages turning.
      Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - March 18, 2008
    Both adventure and mystery can be found in Secrets of the Cirque Medrano by Elaine Scott. Based on Picasso's painting "Family of Saltimbanques" and incorporating real people as well as fictional ones, Scott's own work of art in this historic story is filled with mystery and excitement.
    Mary Beth Parks
      Lithography 101 - June 3, 2008
    When her mother dies, 14-year-old Brigitte is sent away from her home in Poland to live in France with her aunt and uncle where she helps them in their café. This new life presents her with strange and interesting changes to deal with, from the bohemian café patrons, to her moody co-worker, Henri, and the curious circus people who seem to live difficult but exciting lives on the fringes of respectable society. When Brigitte befriends Paco, a young performer from the Cirque Medrano who poses for the temperamental Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, she is drawn into a web of international intrigue.
    Set in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, the novel captures the essence of the times and the many changes that were about to take place in the world: the beginnings of the Russian Revolution, Picasso's switch in painting styles from his Blue Period to his Rose Period, the rise of the middle class, and the maturing of Brigitte from child to young adult among them. Scott is an award-winning non-fiction author, so while Picasso plays a role in the story, she is careful not to put words into his mouth. The time and place of the novel, as well as many of the events, are well-researched, making the storyline and the characters realistic and believable. It is fiction based on fact.
    Scott has combined history and art into an excellent novel for older elementary and early teen readers that may even encourage them to not only look at a few of Picasso's paintings, but to more closely examine this time period in world history as well.
       - January 1, 2009
    Brigitte Dubrinsky must leave Poland to make a new life with her Aunt Dominique after the death of her mother. Her aunt owns Cafe Dominique, near the Cirque Medrano, the circus where the saltimbanques perform, and a young and charismatic Picasso sketches and paints the acrobats. Picasso's band of friends and an anarchist cook draw attention from the international spies and one adventure after another for the young Brigitte. This suspensful and engaging novel for young people is vividly created, revealing the intellectual world of avant-garde artists and writers in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century.
    When Brigitte's mother dies, leaving her an orphan, she is sent to live with her Aunt Dominique and Uncle Georges in Paris, France. Brigitte, who was raised in Poland, finds the new city fascinating, especially the Cirque Medrano, but even though she now lives in one of the most exciting cities in the world, Brigitte's days are taken up with learning to work at Café Dominique, which her new family says she might some day own, and arguing with Henri, a Russian boy who also works at the café. Brigitte dreams of a more exciting life, like the kind offered by the circus, while Henri dreams of a new world order, like the one described by one of his idols, Karl Marx. Not everything in Brigitte's world is as safe as it feels, however, and soon she learns the price of both her dreams and Henri's. Set just as 1904 turns to 1905, the world Brigitte inhabits is one so close in relative time, yet so far. Though Brigitte is the main character, Henri and Paco, a performer at the circus, often seem to be more interesting in terms of background, as Brigitte's main function often seems to be asking questions. The use of Pablo Picasso as a catalyst for many events in the story is intriguing, and his history and personality are not seriously altered for the purposes of fitting into the created-characters' world. This is a book packed with the history of a time when the world was changing rapidly and would be a good addition to a study of the turn of the 19th century.