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)