Monday, May 16, 2011

Queen of the Falls

Queen of the Falls
by Chris Van Allsburg
Houghton Mifflin, 2010. Unpaged. Non-Fiction.

When Annie Edson Taylor's charm school ran out of students, the 62-year old widow looked around for some other way to make money. Riding over Niagara Falls in a barrel would not have occurred to most of us, but Annie thought of it right away. Chris Van Allsburg's first foray into non-fiction tells Annie's remarkable and largely unknown story. Finding someone to construct a barrel to her specifications was the first challenge. Then she had to find someone to row her to the middle of the Niagara River close to, but not past, the Point of No Return. After she emerged, battered and bruised, from her ride over the Falls, Annie hope to cash in on her new-found notoriety as the first person ever to go over Niagara and live to tell the tale. Unfortunately, then, as now, no one was much interested in her when they discovered her to be gray-haired, middle-aged, and frumpy-looking. Van Allsburg's telling and rendering of this remarkable story is exemplary as usual. The roaring power of the Falls, Annie's astonished, even anguished, expressions as she was buffeted down the river and then over the brink, are exquisitely rendered and frightening. Annie's story is masterfully rescued from obscurity by Chris Van Allsburg's artistry and should have wide to appeal to both children and adults.

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