How famous French funambulist Jean-François Gravelet daringly traversed a tightrope spanning Niagara Falls in 1859.
Born into a family of acrobats, gymnasts, and funambulists, or tightrope walkers, Jean-François learned to balance on a thick board at age 4 and “took to the rope like a spider takes to its web.” Performing with his family throughout France, Jean-François twirled, flipped, leaped, and skipped across the high wire, inventing extreme balancing feats. Calling himself “the Great Blondin,” he traveled to America in 1851, pushing his act to be ever more “merveilleux.” Viewing Niagara Falls in 1858, Blondin imagined a tightrope stretched across it. Crossing “those roaring waters” became his life’s ambition. Peppered with French words and phrases, Bowman’s well-researched documentary text re-creates the energy, tactics, skill, engineering, unflinching optimism, and sheer grit of Blondin’s preparations to cross Niagara as well as the skepticism and wonder of all who witnessed his legendary endeavor. Bold, colorful watercolor-and-gouache illustrations capture Blondin’s high-wire escapades, from tottering childhood steps through his sure-footed Niagara crossing, with a dramatic, almost photographic realism. Theatrical lighting, stunning perspectives, and arresting close-ups convey the intensity of Blondin’s feats, either high above the viewer on a rope spanning both pages or below the viewer perched over Niagara’s turbulent waters. Historical notes, timeline, and photos complete the experience.
Awesome, astounding, death-defying. (author’s notes, photos) (Informational picture book. 6-10)