Queen of the Falls

( 4 )


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 ...

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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!

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  • Chris Van Allsburg
    Chris Van Allsburg  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
From the Publisher

"Van Allsburg’s foray into nonfiction is filled with the same suspense, surrealism, and menace that have thrilled readers of his fiction."—School Library Journal, starred review

"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."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"A daredevil story is an easy sell for almost any kid audience, and a daredevil story by a beloved storyteller is just about as good as it gets."—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review

"An odd, unsettling meditation on fame."—Kirkus Reviews

"This illustrated biography climaxes beautifully with a double-page spread of the great falls, a tiny barrel bobbing in the current, and a powerful one-line text: '"Oh, Lord," she whispered, and then she was gone.'"—The Horn Book

Children's Literature - Della A. Yannuzzi
Van Allsburg begins his biography by giving a brief introduction about a popular visitor's attraction called Niagara Falls, and a person on the verge of going over the falls in a barrel. On one October day in 1901, thousands of visitors were at the falls to witness the amazing feat of Annie Edson Taylor, a sixty-two-year-old woman who at once owned a charm and dance school in Bay City Michigan. Annie decided to seek fame and fortune when one day she read a story about Niagara Falls and decided she would find fame and fortune by being the first person to go over the falls in a barrel. She designed a strong barrel to withstand the force of the falling water and then convinced a barrel maker to build it. When the day came for Annie to go over the falls, she was taken by boat to an island near the falls where she crawled into the barrel filled with pillows to soften her fall. Spectators breathlessly watched as the barrel rolled to the edge of the falls and then plunged downward into the water. They waited for the barrel to surface, and then miraculously it floated to the surface. When the lid was popped open, Annie Taylor was bruised and sore, but alive. After recovering, she toured the country talking about her amazing feat. She was dubbed "Queen of the Falls" and for the rest of her life remained content and happy that she was the first person to have braved the falls and survived it! The black and white illustrations are life-like and visually build up suspense to the actual event. However, the anticipation ends when the barrel is seen perched at the top of the falls and the next drawing shows the barrel being opened. Another one shows Annie reclining in bed. A rendering of the barrel tumbling down the falls would have added more punch to this dangerous act. Aside from this, the story of an ordinary woman doing an extraordinary feat is well-told. Back material includes an Author's Note and a Bibliography. Reviewer: Della A. Yannuzzi
School Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews
Darkly moody illustrations capture a daredevil's successful stunt. In 1901, "short, plump, and fussy" Annie Edson Taylor is 62 years old. Her charm school folds, and she fears "the poorhouse, an unhappy place where old people without money or a family... live out their years." Annie's no thrill-seeker, just astoundingly matter-of-fact and audacious—so she decides to be the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. As Annie designs her own barrel, "with iron bands wrapped around it" and a leather belt and metal handles inside, Van Allsburg uses scale and angle for drama. Annie meticulously squints down an oak plank to choose the best one; a close-up of a broken egg oozing out of a can speaks volumes about Annie's potential experience. The highly skilled black-and–antique-cream drawings have a bleak, unsettling vibe, matching first the danger of the feat and then Annie's disappointment at the lack of financial profit, for this was to be her road to security. On tour, audiences are skeptical or bored to see that "the fearless 'Queen of the Falls' [is] a little old lady." At the end, Annie claims contentment, but it's hard to believe; still, daredevil fans will appreciate the triumphant stunt and the details of how it worked. An odd, unsettling meditation on fame. (author's note, bibliography, list of barrel riders) (Informational picture book. 7-10)
Abby McGanney Nolan
Van Allsburg delivers plenty of narrative tension and captivating perspectives as he tells of [Taylor's] dangerous and discombobulating ride over the falls.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547315812
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/4/2011
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 201,444
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: 1060L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 11.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Van Allsburg is the winner of two Caldecott Medals, for Jumanji and The Polar Express, as well as the recipient of a Caldecott Honor Book for The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. The author and illustrator of numerous picture books for children, he has also been awarded the Regina Medal for lifetime achievement in children’s literature. In 1982, Jumanji was nominated for a National Book Award and in 1996, it was made into a popular feature film. Chris Van Allsburg was formerly an instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two children.


Multiple Caldecott Medal winner Chris Van Allsburg grew up in the 1950s in and around Grand Rapids, Michigan. He majored in sculpture at the University of Michigan's College of Architecture & Design and graduated in 1972. He received his M.F.A. in 1975 from Rhode Island School of Design.

After graduate school, Van Allsburgh set up a sculpture studio in Providence, married and settled in the area, and began exhibiting his work in New York City and throughout New England. Around the same time, he became interested in drawing. His wife, Lisa, encouraged him to pursue children's book illustration, putting him in contact with her friend David Macauley, a successful artist and author. Macauley's editor at Houghton Mifflin was impressed by Van Allsburgh's work and advised him to try his hand at illustrating a story of his own. His maiden effort, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, was published in 1979 and received a Caldecott Honor Medal.

Since that auspicious beginning, Van Allsburgh has gone on to produce a string of wonderfully inventive, critically acclaimed, and award-winning books. He gathers inspiration from unlikely quarters -- the progress of ants across a kitchen counter, crayon streaks in a child's coloring book, a children's board game come to life -- and executes his ideas on a provocative but surefire "What if..." principle.

Among his many awards are two Caldecott Medals -- one for Jumanji, written in 1982 and the other for 1985's The Polar Express; a National Book Award (also for Jumanji); and the Regina Medal for lifetime achievement in children's literature.

Good To Know

Van Allsburg's grandfather owned and operated the East End Creamery and delivered milk and milk products to homes around the Grand Rapids area in yellow and blue trucks.

One of Van Allsburg's childhood homes was a big, Tudor-styled house on a wide, tree-lined street. He used the street as a model for the cover art of what is arguably his most famous book, The Polar Express.

Because so many students at Van Allsburg's high school excelled academically, representatives from the University of Michigan would visit each year to interview interested seniors and admit them on the spot if they met qualifications. During his senior year, Van Allsburg was told about the art program affiliated with the University's College of Architecture & Design and thought it sounded like fun. Although he had never had any formal art classes, he fibbed to the admissions officer, saying he had taken private lessons outside of school.

Two of Van Allsburg's bestselling books, Jumanji and The Polar Express, were subsequently turned into blockbuster movies.

Van Allsburg is not your typical "feel good" children's author. He has been known to handle darker themes, and his stories often involve bizarre worlds and dreamscapes.

In all his stories, Van Allsburg inserts a little white bull terrier modeled after a real-life dog owned by his brother-in-law. (Another popular children's author, David Shannon, does the same thing, but Shannon's pup is a Westie!)

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    1. Hometown:
      Providence, Rhode Island
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 18, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Grand Rapids, Michigan
    1. Education:
      University of Michigan College of Architecture & Design, 1972; Rhode Island School of Design, MFA, 1975
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 11, 2011

    Great Illustrations

    From the inside flap:

    "Why had so many people gathered to watch a barrel plunge over the waterfall? Wouldn't tons of water pouning onto the rocks below have simply broken it to pieces?

    And yet there they stood, watching and waiting, holding their breath __ waiting, because they all knew the barrel was not empty!

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

    At the turn of the century, a retired charm school instructor named Annie Edson Taylor, seeking fame and furtune, decided to do soemthing that no one in the world had ever done before -- she would go over Niagrara Falls in a wooden barrel."

    What I liked about the book: The illustrations of course. Van Allsburg is one of my favorite illustrators. His drawings are always magically realistic. This one is no exception. I like that it is a true story told in picture book format. Granted the text is longer than most picture books, but it is perfect for a quick introduction to biographies. It would also be good for sparking discussion on people stepping outside their expected roles. Who would ever expect an elderly charm school teacher to take on such an adventure, especially during the early 1900s?

    What I didn't like about the book: I'm not sure it will truly appeal to children. Adults, especially teachers, are more likely to appreciate it than students. It's not a book I can envision children snatching off the shelf for an impulse read. They are more likely to read as part of an assignment.
    Recommended for 4th grade and up.
    Mrs. Archer's Rating: 4 of 5 (though as always, I would give Van Allsburg 5 for the illustrations)!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 4, 2011

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    Posted March 22, 2011

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