Hardcover, 40 pages
Publication Date: 04/04/2011
I just received an advance copy of Chris Van Allsburg's newest picturebook, Queen of the Falls! It is stunning -- as is all of his artwork -- and it is also his first book of nonfiction.
The publisher's description:
She could remember standing in a park near the falls, hypnotized by the sight and sound, and holding her father’s hand as they took a walk that would lead them closer.
That’s what everyone wonders when they see Niagara . . . How close will their courage let them get to it?
At the turn of the nineteenth century, a retired sixty-two-year-old charm school instructor named Annie Edson Taylor, seeking fame and fortune, decided to do something that no one in the world had ever done before—she would go over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel.
The publisher's website has a great interview with Van Allsburg in which he explains how he got the idea for Queen of the Falls. I can already envision teachers using Queen of the Falls as a mentor text for teaching children about writing nonfiction on a topic that is interesting or even fascinating to them.
In 1901, 62-year-old widow Annie Edson Taylor needs "a way to strike it rich" after closing her Michigan charm school. Spying an article about Niagara Falls as a tourist destination, she decides to become a popular attraction, too. She commissions a barrel "big enough to hold herself and a large number of pillows," hires a publicist, calls on reporters, and finds a boatman willing to tow her into the river. In his first book since 2006's Probuditi! Van Allsburg chronicles Taylor's determination along with public surprise (and disappointment) at such an unglamorous daredevil. In sepia-tinted portraits, Van Allsburg pictures her in a ruffled blouse, cameo brooch, and billowing skirt, her white hair swept under a dowdy hat. The book is impeccably designed; Van Allsburg's grainy, closely observed colored-pencil scenes mimic documentary photos and are beautifully balanced by blocks of text. There is one full-bleed spread: the falls after the barrel has disappeared. In this unromantic and bittersweet account, Van Allsburg presents the feat as born as much out of need as of courage, with Taylor portrayed as a hardheaded eccentric and an unlikely queen. Ages 6–9. (Apr.)