Book Review: Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg


Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg

What does a daredevil look like?  What traits must they embody?  Take the first person who ever went over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  Who do you think that person might be?  I’ll bet you didn’t think of a retired charm school teacher named Annie Edson Taylor.  She decided to try for fame and fortune through her stunt.  So she had a custom-made barrel designed and created, riding it over the falls in 1901.  This picture book follows her through her decision, preparations, over the falls, and then how her chance at fame turned out.  It is a book that explores fame, courage, and stereotypes.

Van Allsburg’s writing is rich, offering more text than is usually found in a picture book.  His picture books tend to have more text and be aimed at an older audience than general picture books, so this is exactly in the vein of his previous work.  The writing offers readers a glimpse into Annie’s though process as she changed from teacher to daredevil.  So much of the story would have been lost without the writing to carry it.

Of course any Van Allsburg book is about the illustrations.  He captures moments of inspiration, times of disappointment and anger, and also what a person’s face would look like as they go over Niagara Falls.  There is a beauty to this feisty woman who would not stop because of derision from those around her.  Van Allsburg reveals her as a real heroine in his book, creating incredible moments of tension in his art.

Highly recommended, this book celebrates a vibrant, risk-taking woman who deserves to be much better known than she currently is.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

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