A new book by Chris Van Allsburg is always cause for celebration and Queen of the Falls is no exception. Aimed at a slightly older audience than The Polar Express, Queen of the Falls is a picture book based on the adventures of Annie Edison Taylor who was the first person to go – as you might guess – over the falls.
Here’s the funny thing about this blog post. Van Allsburg’s book has been sitting on my desk for a few weeks because I wanted to write about it. By coincidence, and somewhat unplanned, yesterday was my first visit to Niagara Falls. The second I stepped up to the railing and looked over the side, Annie Edison Taylor was on my mind. I kept picturing that barrel going over the falls with the tiny 62-year-old Taylor inside. This was in 1901! What could she have possibly been thinking? The answer is fame. And that’s what makes this book more than an exciting adventure story. I can see two ways to use this book at school. For younger children, it doesn’t get much more exciting than a person putting themselves into a wood barrel and propelling themselves over the most powerful waterfall in North America.
With older children, I plan to use the book to start a discussion about fame. Taylor went over the falls because she wanted to be famous – and more specifically to make money. I won’t give the story away, but things don’t go the way she planned. The possibilities for a conversation with middle school students about the lengths people go to for fame are endless.
Queen of the Falls is Van Allsburg’s first nonfiction title, but he brings the same imagination and suspense to this book as he does to his fiction.
About yesterday’s visit to Niagara Falls…the falls themselves do not disappoint. They are truly awe inspiring. However, I was hesitant to get on the Maid of the Mist, let alone be tempted by the fame of going over in a barrel! The area outside the gates of Niagara Falls State Park was a different story. My family found the crowded casinos and Atlantic City-vibe to be at odds with the beauty of the falls and frankly, a bit depressing. We kept our eyes on the main attraction and moved on to Buffalo where we enjoyed a visit to the Anchor Bar, the home of the Buffalo Chicken Wing. For my son, it was the highlight of our trip through western New York.