Tavares (Growing Up Pedro) employs his realistic gouache and watercolor illustrations to tell the story of famous stuntman the Great Blondin, and his harrowing tightrope walks across the Niagara River. Born Jean François Gravelet, the Frenchman began his career as a child circus acrobat. Light-infused scenes depict the adult Blondin’s perilous yet successful river crossings during the summers of 1859 and 1860. Varied perspectives put readers among spectators on the cliff banks as well as on the wire with Blondin, looking down at the water and the Maid of the Mist tour boat far below (“Gamblers bet large amounts of money on how it would end. The odds were not in Blondin’s favor”). A gatefold features the showman executing animated tricks along one tightrope—walking on stilts, balancing atop a chair, crossing backward—and the tale climaxes and concludes with the near-disastrous piggyback-ride crossing Blondin performs with his manager on his back. Tavares’s sweeping panoramas and direct storytelling easily transport audiences back to those suspense-filled summer days more than 150 years ago. A brief author’s note and bibliography are included. Ages 6–9. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Apr.)
“Monsieur Blondin is to cross Niagara Falls this afternoon, or perish in the attempt.” — Troy Daily Times, June 30, 1859
When the Great Blondin announced that he was going to walk from America to Canada across the Niagara River on a rope that was more than 1,100 feet long and just 3 inches wide, hanging 160 feet above the raging river, people came from everywhere. Some came to watch him cross. Some came to watch him fall. Some thought he wouldn’t show up at all. But he did show up. And he did walk across the river. And then he did something else amazing. He crossed the river on that tightrope again and again, adding another death-defying flourish each time. Matt Tavares’s gorgeous, riveting account of the daredevil of Niagara Falls is sure to hold readers in its grip, just as Blondin's feats enthralled those spectators on the cliffs more than one hundred and fifty years ago.
Tavares’s strength lies in his inviting watercolor, pencil, and gouache illustrations, which convey here the majesty of the waterfall and Blondin’s achievement, as well as the intensity of the hundreds of people who gathered to watch. Their alternately terrified and excited faces add depth to the story and draw the eye. A simple but effective biography about a remarkable talent expressed through striking visuals.
—School Library Journal
Tavares’s sweeping panoramas and direct storytelling easily transport audiences back to those suspense-filled summer days more than 150 years ago.
Tavares' color palette captures the stunning falls, river, and forested slopes in gray-white mist, pastel blues, and soft greens...A compressed, respectful glimpse at the achievements of a fascinating 19th-century daredevil.
The extra-large format and several full-page illustrations help young readers grasp the enormity of the Falls, especially when Blondin appears as a tiny figure over the great expanse. Dramatically illustrated scenes also allow readers to understand the difficulty of the task, including the careful preparations, en route maneuvers, and evident relief upon returning to solid ground. This would be an inspirational read-aloud for a unit on dreamers and adventurers—those daunting individuals who somehow make the impossible possible.
This book is full of nail-biting fun and is great for a historical look at extreme sports, daredevilry, and family entertainment...The fast-paced prose is just as much fun as the illustrations and manages to shine the light on the Great Blondin’s humor as well as his singleness of purpose.
—New York Journal of Books
Tavares lovingly depicts the Falls in mist- enshrouded aquas and grays; even when the mighty waterfall is off-stage, the white vapor permeates everything. He continually varies the perspective, sometimes giving the reader a bird’s-eye view (as in the vertigo-inducing shot of Blondin holding a bottle aloft with the Maid of the Mist boat far below), at other times composing faraway shots to show the mammoth scope of the surroundings. An author’s note and selected bibliography round out this sure-footed offering.
—The Horn Book
Tavares’ narration emphasizes the Great Blondin’s showmanship as well as his daring, particularly as he carried his manager on his back on one crossing, as the main section of rope sagged under the added weight and a supporting guy wire snapped...there is compensation in the varied and dizzying angles at which the performer’s antics are captured, as well as double foldout spread of multiple stunts.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Readers who like death-defying events will appreciate this gorgeous memoir of Jean Francois Gravelet...The stunning watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations magnify the meaning of the story both literally and figuratively. An author’s note is included. Students will relish this exciting life story, and school librarians will definitely want to add this to their collections.
—School Library Connection
The author-artist of "Henry Aaron's Dream" and "Becoming Babe Ruth" puts his considerable gifts for boisterous narrative and lively illustration to good use in this marvelous picture book about the improbable feats of Niagara Falls daredevil, the great Blondin.
—The Buffalo News
Giving new meaning to the term “daredevil,” this highly interesting true story will have readers/listeners hanging on every word.
—Books to Borrow...Books to Buy (Kendal A. Rautzhan column)
Gr 2–4—This engagingly illustrated biography of famed tightrope walker the Great Blondin vividly evokes the anxiety and excitement of his awe-inspiring crossings of Niagara Falls. Jean François Gravelet began his career at just five years old and soon became the most famous tightrope walker in the world, earning the nickname the Great Blondin. After a visit to Niagara Falls with his circus troupe, Blondin was seized by the idea of spanning the great distance between the American and Canadian sides of the falls with his tightrope. His initial success in June 1859 inspired him to do it again and again, adding more elaborate tricks and techniques each time. Tavares focuses very specifically on Blondin's crossings. Although the lack of biographical details may frustrate older readers, it makes the story accessible to those who aren't yet ready to take on more in-depth biographies. This volume will draw inevitable comparisons to Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (Roaring Brook, 2003) and makes for a great read-alike suggestion. As with his other titles, Tavares's strength lies in his inviting watercolor, pencil, and gouache illustrations, which convey here the majesty of the waterfall and Blondin's achievement, as well as the intensity of the hundreds of people who gathered to watch. Their alternately terrified and excited faces add depth to the story and draw the eye. VERDICT A simple but effective biography about a remarkable talent expressed through striking visuals.—Kristy Pasquariello, Wellesley Free Library, Wellesley, MA
Tavares reanimates the achievements of the French-born tightrope walker Jean-François Gravelet, aka "the Great Blondin"—first to cross over the Niagara River, in 1859. After the briefest of childhood back stories, the focus is fully on Blondin's determined dream, hatched while touring the United States with a circus troupe. Blondin acquired backing from a local newspaper and permissions from property owners in both New York and Canada (though crossing the falls themselves was disallowed). A 3-inch-wide rope was stretched 1,100 feet across; a web of guy ropes, set by Blondin himself, stabilized it. Tavares' straightforward narrative allows Blondin's feat to shine: the aerialist not only walks to Canada—and back—but performs tricks along the way. Pictures often reveal more than words. A double gatefold's text reads: "During the summers of 1859 and 1860, Blondin performed on his rope more than a dozen times. With each performance, he tried to do something…that had never, ever been done before." The illustration (in watercolor, gouache, and pencil) depicts eight Blondins, across the rope's middle span—walking in shackles, on stilts, with a wheelbarrow, somersaulting. Tavares' color palette captures the stunning falls, river, and forested slopes in gray-white mist, pastel blues, and soft greens. He varies perspective and depicts period clothing and transportation. Attributed thoughts and quotes are not specifically sourced. A compressed, respectful glimpse at the achievements of a fascinating 19th-century daredevil. (author's note, selected bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 6-9)