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Amazon Exclusive: A Letter from Chris Van Allsburg, Author and Illustrator
Dear Amazon Readers,
I first saw Niagara Falls when I was twelve years old. My family was making a winter trip from the Midwest to New England. We arrived in Niagara close to sunset, with plans to spend the night. I don’t remember if it was my sister’s and my demand that required we see the falls right away, but that is what happened.
Over the years, I have had opportunities to visit sites renowned for their beauty and awe-inspiring nature and have occasionally been disappointed, but the falls exceeded my expectations. They were far more majestic and awesome than my twelve-year-old mind had been able to imagine.
I viewed the waterfall initially from a park. It was close enough to the mist rising from the falling water and drifting across the park that the trees within it had—because of the cold winter air—become encased in ice. The sun was low in the sky and the light that penetrated the mist glistened off the trees, creating an effect that made it seem as if the world was made of glass. In the background, the constant roar of the falls seemed to insist on my attention, no matter how magical the surrounding landscape.
This mist made a strong impression and left me with the peculiar memory of a place that was both enchanting and frightening.
Many years passed, and sometime in the early 1970s I happened upon a magazine article called "The Daredevils of Niagara Falls." I discovered that over the previous century, the Falls had attracted a world-class group of eccentric risk takers. Among the most remarkable of these was the first person to go over the falls in a barrel. I was amazed to learn that this individual was a sixty-two-year-old retired charm school teacher named Annie Edson Taylor. Just as amazing to me was that I’d gotten to the age of twenty-two and had never heard of this woman and what she had done.
Why, I wondered, hadn’t I learned about this in school? I wouldn’t compare it to Lindberg crossing the Atlantic, but still, it seemed extraordinary in its own way, and yet had evidently been left to history.
About a year and a half ago, in the spirit of finding new challenges, I decided to undertake a project that was a change from the fantasies that make up a large part of my work. Recalling the pleasure I got as a child from reading biographies of unusual or accomplished Americans, and how satisfying it was to learn about American history and culture that way, I decided to write just such a biography. I couldn’t decide who might make a worthy subject and who had not already been the subject of other books. There, from the recesses of memory, sprang the name Annie Taylor.
Researching Mrs. Taylor’s life provided details that made it clear that her story was not one that fit into a conventional narrative of the determined underdog who triumphs over the challenges and obstacles placed before him or her, and emerges with admiration and rich rewards. Annie’s story was more complicated than that—and, to me, more interesting.
My initial design for the book was horizontal, partly to accommodate longer text in a thirty-two-page format. I ultimately changed to a vertical shape when it became clear a forty-page format would allow for a more effective balance of text and pictures. (I was also persuaded by my colleagues at the publisher that a vertical format was more appropriate for a book about a monumental fall.)
I have included here two sketches for jacket designs I made when still thinking about a horizontal book, as well as an example of what a very early and rough draft looks like as I attempt to work out the text placement and picture sequence.
I hope you enjoy reading about the amazing adventures of Annie Edson Taylor.
Chris Van Allsburg(Click on Images to Enlarge)
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I have used this book for read alouds with classes of children in fifth grades. The children love the content and expecially the fact that it is very human and a true story. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Nancy R. Robinson
The story is completely accurate, and the pictures are very well drawn. But it's true, the book doesn't get you reading on. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Mary
When 62-year old widow Annie Taylor has to close her charm school, she struggles to come up with another way to earn an income. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
Good but somewhat wordy. It was hard to hold my 9 year old's attention.
The story was a reinforcement of how powerful a woman's drive and determination can be
This story of a woman who went over the falls because a life as a shop keeper wasn't going to provide enough income and status is interesting. Read morePublished 11 months ago by A. E. Payne
You can not go wrong with a Chris Van Allsburg book. My students love the stories and especially the amazing illustrations. They always look forward to a new book weekly. Read morePublished 15 months ago by pirateteacher
I would recommend this book for immediate students and higher as they will be able to embrace the courage
of Annie Edison Taylor. Read more
On October 24, 1901, Annie Edson Taylor became the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel - as a matter of fact, it was on her 63rd birthday! Read morePublished 21 months ago by Kurt A. Johnson
I perchased this book for my granddaughters and have looked through it, and it is just what I wanted. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Mary M. Bates