QUEEN OF THE FALLS

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)

Pub Date: April 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-31581-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering.

THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH

An honestly told biography of an important politician whose name every American should know.

Published while the United States has its first African-American president, this story of John Roy Lynch, the first African-American speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, lays bare the long and arduous path black Americans have walked to obtain equality. The title’s first three words—“The Amazing Age”—emphasize how many more freedoms African-Americans had during Reconstruction than for decades afterward. Barton and Tate do not shy away from honest depictions of slavery, floggings, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, or the various means of intimidation that whites employed to prevent blacks from voting and living lives equal to those of whites. Like President Barack Obama, Lynch was of biracial descent; born to an enslaved mother and an Irish father, he did not know hard labor until his slave mistress asked him a question that he answered honestly. Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Lynch had a long and varied career that points to his resilience and perseverance. Tate’s bright watercolor illustrations often belie the harshness of what takes place within them; though this sometimes creates a visual conflict, it may also make the book more palatable for young readers unaware of the violence African-Americans have suffered than fully graphic images would. A historical note, timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, bibliography and map are appended.

A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering. (Picture book biography. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5379-0

Page Count: 50

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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26 FAIRMOUNT AVENUE

            The legions of fans who over the years have enjoyed dePaola’s autobiographical picture books will welcome this longer gathering of reminiscences.  Writing in an authentically childlike voice, he describes watching the new house his father was building go up despite a succession of disasters, from a brush fire to the hurricane of 1938.  Meanwhile, he also introduces family, friends, and neighbors, adds Nana Fall River to his already well-known Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, remembers his first day of school (“ ‘ When do we learn to read?’  I asked.  ‘Oh, we don’t learn how to read in kindergarten.  We learn to read next year, in first grade.’  ‘Fine,’ I said.  ‘I’ll be back next year.’  And I walked right out of school.”), recalls holidays, and explains his indignation when the plot of Disney’s “Snow White” doesn’t match the story he knows.  Generously illustrated with vignettes and larger scenes, this cheery, well-knit narrative proves that an old dog can learn new tricks, and learn them surpassingly well.  (Autobiography.  7-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23246-X

Page Count: 58

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1999

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