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Queen of the Falls
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Another stunning visual delight from this bestselling Caldecott Medal winning picture book creator.

About the Author

Chris van Allsburg lives in Providence, Rhode Island and lectures at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is a sculptor and artist, and twice winner of the Caldecott Medal, first for Jumanji, and then for The Polar Express. He has also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators in October 2009.

Reviews

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

K-Gr 4-Van Allsburg's foray into nonfiction is filled with the same suspense, surrealism, and menace that have thrilled readers of his fiction. The opening illustration of a 17-story building set in the cascading waters of Niagara Falls establishes scale. Onlookers focus on a barrel that has just "plunged over the Falls, disappearing in a liquid avalanche." The year is 1901. The action cuts to a waning charm school in Michigan, where widow Annie Edson Taylor fears a future in the poorhouse. A newspaper story triggers visions of fame and fortune, and ensuing text describes her preparations to build the barrel and promote the stunt. The artist's familiar warm sepia and cream tones, depth of field, and solid architectural details continue to please. What is new is the wonderful freedom in his lines. The long squiggles that comprise the water sparkle and shimmer on their drop, until their distinctive paths disappear in the spray. Shifting perspectives and varying page design convey Niagara's majesty and Taylor's risk. Some facing pages are symmetrical; others contrast a long shot of nature with a close-up of a facial expression. Especially effective is the upside-down (womblike) view of the old woman, face and body scrunched inside the barrel. The escapade did not bring financial security, but in a final exchange with a reporter, the widow takes pride for doing what others only dreamed about. There are no citations or explanations for this dialogue in the author's note, although a bibliography is provided. This is a fascinating study of two forces of nature.-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

"Astonishing" * The Sunday Times *
"Van Allsburg adeptly turns an oddball historical footnote into an accessible adventure story . . . and Van Allsburg's trademark sepia-toned pencil drawings are, as always, superb." * New York Times *
"Fascinating...artfully illustrated with intelligence and sophistication." * The School Librarian *
"A fabulous story, narrated through vivid prose and juxtaposed with Allsburg's sepia art work, which is deeply evocative of early 20th-century America." -- Vanessa Lewis * The Bookseller *
"An unusual, stunning and inspirational book." -- jake Hope * The Bookseller *

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