Review of Crossing Niagara: The Death-Defying Tightrope 
Adventures of the Great Blondin

tavares_crossing niagaraCrossing Niagara: The Death-Defying Tightrope Adventures of the Great Blondin
by Matt Tavares; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Candlewick    36 pp.
4/16    978-0-7636-6823-5    $17.99    g

In 1859, Jean François Gravelet — the Great Blondin — was the world’s greatest tightrope walker. Niagara Falls, then as now one of the world’s most breathtaking natural attractions, called to Blondin: “What a splendid place to bridge with a tightrope!” Tavares’s straightforward telling details all the drama of Blondin’s multiple crossings, which drew huge crowds to the Falls…at first. Eventually, the spectacle of a man doing stunts — many of which are shown on a boldly illustrated gatefold — on a three-inch-wide rope high above Niagara Falls lost its appeal, and Blondin moved on. The storytelling is a bit abrupt both at the outset and at book’s end, but it is helpfully augmented by the volume’s oversized trim and Tavares’s arresting illustrations in watercolor, gouache, and pencil. Throughout, Tavares lovingly depicts the Falls in mist-enshrouded aquas and grays; even when the mighty waterfall is offstage, 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.

From the May/June 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Sam Bloom

Sam Bloom is a programming librarian at the Covington Branch of the Kenton County Public Library in northern Kentucky.

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