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Queen of the Falls Hardcover – April 4, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

Come meet the Queen of the Falls and witness with your own eyes her daring ride!

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.

Yours truly,

Chris Van Allsburg

(Click on Images to Enlarge)

From Booklist

Any kid who has beheld Niagara Falls—or even taken a good look at pictures of it—will be suitably gobsmacked by the true story of charm-school teacher Annie Edson Taylor, who, at age 62, decided on a whim to fund her golden years by being the first person over the falls. At first, local barrel makers turned her away in horror, but her determination was convincing, and on October 24, 1901, the reinforced and padded 160-pound vessel was dropped into the water in front of thousands of nervous spectators. Van Allsburg’s trademark framed illustrations have the unnerving stillness of old-timey photos, though they struggle for a while with settings unconducive to excitement. Once Taylor hits the water, though, Van Allsburg’s restraint becomes a master class in tension, keeping his drawings of the barrel’s interior small enough to communicate claustrophobia. Van Allsburg’s telling of the rest of the tale—Taylor’s failure to parlay her adventure into cash—is especially affecting, and readers will embrace her resolve. Grades 3-5. --Daniel Kraus

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 6 - 9 years
  • Grade Level: 1 - 4
  • Lexile Measure: 1060L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (April 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547315813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547315812
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 8.5 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The word "daredevil" conjures up different images for different people. Speaking for myself, when I hear it I instantly picture someone like Evel Knievel leaping over cars on a motorcycle. I do not picture sixty-two year old charm school matrons climbing into barrels. The name "Chris Van Allsburg" also conjures up a variety of interesting images. A person might think of his books The Mysteries of Harris Burdick or The Sweetest Fig (or, my personal favorite, The Stranger). And until now, they also would probably not picture sixty-two year old charm school matrons climbing into barrels. Yet now both the word and the author/illustrator have become inextricably linked to one another, and it is all because of a little old lady who died nearly one hundred years ago. For the first time, Chris Van Allsburg has put aside the fantastical for something infinitely more intriguing: Real world history with just a touch of the insane. And it all begins with the first person to ever go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

The facts about the Niagara Falls are well known. "The water drops from a height that is as tall as a seventeen-story building." Fact of the matter is, you'd have to be nutty to even consider going over such falls. Yet that was the idea that appealed so much to Ms. Annie Edson Taylor. A former charm school teacher, Annie was sixty-two years old and in real need of money. In a flash it came to her: Go over the edge of Niagara Falls in a barrel and reap the rewards that come.
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Format: Hardcover
"An odd, unsettling meditation on fame."--Kirkus Reviews

Exactly. It is an interesting story, and as always, the illustrations are simply stunning. But this is not a feel-good book that will leave the young reader aglow. What I would HOPE is that it is a book that will start the young reader on some deep thoughts about the price of fame, the needs of the elderly in reduced circumstances, and the fact that there are those who take advantage of same. Unsettling indeed.
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Format: Hardcover
Chris Van Allsburg's latest picture book, a biography, is beautifully illustrated, but the story falls short of the mark. As always, Van Allsburg's black-and-white illustrations are realistic and magical. But the illustrations themselves did not save the story, which while interesting, was a little too unevenly paced to really be a stand-out biography. Queen of the Falls tells the tale of Annie Taylor, the 62-year-old school teacher who was the first person to successfully go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. The beginning page of the book starts in the middle of the action, and then Van Allsburg flashes back to Annie's past history as a charm school teacher. The exposition and background of Annie's story dragged a bit, and then the middle of the story (Annie's preparation for and subsequent barrel ride over the falls) is full of drama and suspense. After Annie's Falls' adventure, the end of her tale again becomes slow and starts to lose the reader. I read this aloud to a class of 5th graders, and while some of them were intrigued by Annie Taylor's story, some of them were clearly bored by the end of the book. I would recommend this book to upper elementary students who like biographies and non-fiction stories, and to any child or adult who wants to learn about the first person to ever successfully go over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel.

NOTE: I agree with another reviewer here who said that the story leaves the reader with an "unsettled" feeling. This is certainly not a "happy ending" kind of book, which will make children smile. It will make them think, however.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Strengths: This book is typical Van Allsburg with an intriguing story, never before told in picture book format. What is especially interesting is that this is a true story. I guess sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. The author starts by putting us at the top of the waterfall with Annie, just as she is about to go over the falls (without telling us who is in the barrel). Then he explains why Annie decided to do such a crazy stunt, she hoped it would make her rich, so she wouldn't have to try to eke out a living as a store clerk or cleaning lady. The same reasons that people do such seemingly crazy stunts today, fame and fortune. The writing is smooth-flowing and tells the story well, but it's the illustrations that make the story stand out. Unfortunately, for Annie she wasn't young and beautiful and as a result the public wasn't interested in hearing her story. The facial expressions are fantastic and show clearly the feelings of the people involved, the spectators, barrel makers, Annie herself, and her 'manager.' Normally I prefer color illustrations, but Van Allsburg's are so superb that color doesn't seem to matter, in fact the black and white seem to help delineate the feeling of the historical era.

Weaknesses: I have to admit, I don't really see any weaknesses in this particular book, except maybe the length. Like many of Van Allsburg's books, this one has a lot of writing, making it more appropriate as a read-a-loud for an older audience.
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