When I opened up Queen of the Falls this past Thursday morning and started reading it to my girls, I had no idea what to expect. I had simply seen the name on the front–Chris Van Allsburg, realized it was a new title, and brought it home. I guess I was expecting something fantastical like most of Van Allsburg’s other works. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that Queen of the Falls is simply a nonfiction picture book illustrated with Van Allsburg’s trademark monochromatic drawings. The truth is, though, that the story is fantastical enough without any help! Queen of the Falls is the story of the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Van Allsburg writes a very absorbing story, which begins with the closing of Taylor’s Charm School in Bay City, Michigan. The school’s proprietor, Annie Edson Taylor, was a sixty-two year old widow who had to have a way to make a living–
So suddenly, like a cork popping from a champagne bottle, an idea came to her. She would find fame and fortune by doing something no one in the world had ever done before. Annie Taylor would go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
From Taylor’s painstaking plan to have a barrel built that could withstand the trip over the falls to her hiring of an agent to see to it that she would become famous so that fortune would follow, this book recounts the details of this unlikely tale in a spellbinding way. The two-page spread which shows the barrel bobbing almost on the edge of the falls was definitely our favorite–what a perfect opportunity to point out the climax of a story! Van Allsburg carries this very human story through to its rather ho-hum conclusion, which was not fame and fortune for Taylor but rather defending the very fact that she, a small, elderly woman, was actually the Queen of the Falls. We really enjoyed this engrossing and exciting story, and it prompted me to take out our honeymoon scrapbook and share the story of mine and Steady Eddie’s trip to Niagara Falls as we made our way south after spending about a week on Prince Edward Island. Of course, the girls loved this; it was the cherry on top of an already delectable read-aloud experience! For history and/or adventure loving children (and what kid doesn’t like an adventure, especially one with an unlikely heroine?), I give Queen of the Falls a Highly Recommended. (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)
Queen of the Falls is set in 1901, so I couldn’t help but think of the series of posts at Semicolon about that year, including this post about events and invention of 1901. I’m also linking up this post at Nonfiction Monday hosted this week at Wendie’s Wanderings.