Monday, March 7, 2011

Queen of the Falls

Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg.  Grades 2-5.  Houghton Mifflin, April 2011.  Unpaged.  Review copy provided by publisher.

What was Annie Edson Taylor to do?  It was 1901, her charm school had just closed, saying goodbye to its last pupil, and Annie didn't have much saved up.  At 62 years old, Annie couldn't scrub floors for a living and she was too proud to take a shopkeeper's job, selling candy to the children whom she had once instructed.  Instead, she would find fame and fortune... by being the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel!

And who ever would have thought that the first person to go over Niagara Falls and survive would be a 62-year-old woman?

Chris Van Allsburg brings to life an unusual slice of American history, evoking the turn of the century with his expressive pencil drawings.  Sadly, things did not pan out for "The Queen of the Falls" and Annie Edson Taylor's post-falls publicity tour flopped when spectators were not interested in seeing a little old lady instead of the "lady daredevil" they expected.

This is an interesting and engaging nonfiction picture book and Chris Van Allsburg expertly pairs the art with the text to build suspense.  The expressions used in the art contribute to the rising tension and are particularly well-done.  In fact, Mr. Van Allsburg mentions his work on the expressions in the following video, talking about the making of the book:

One page of back matter includes a photo of Annie Edson Taylor, Mr. Van Allsburg's notes about his inspiration for the book, a list of successful "Barrel Riders", and a short bibliography.  Sadly there are no source notes for the quotes used in the book, nor does Mr. Van Allsburg address whether he fabricated them for the sake of the story.

All in all, this is a very well-done picture book that shines a light on an overlooked lady in American history.

Betsy's got another review over at A Fuse #8 Production, so make sure you check that out.

Queen of the Falls is due out on April 4!

Happy Nonfiction Monday!  Anastasia's got the roundup at Picture Book of the Day!