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

illus. by Matt Tavares. 36p. bibliog. Candlewick. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763668235.
Gr 2–4—This engagingly illustrated biography of famed tightrope walker the Great Blondin vividly evokes the anxiety and excitement of his awe-inspiring crossings of Niagara Falls. Jean François Gravelet began his career at just five years old and soon became the most famous tightrope walker in the world, earning the nickname the Great Blondin. After a visit to Niagara Falls with his circus troupe, Blondin was seized by the idea of spanning the great distance between the American and Canadian sides of the falls with his tightrope. His initial success in June 1859 inspired him to do it again and again, adding more elaborate tricks and techniques each time. Tavares focuses very specifically on Blondin's crossings. Although the lack of biographical details may frustrate older readers, it makes the story accessible to those who aren't yet ready to take on more in-depth biographies. This volume will draw inevitable comparisons to Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (Roaring Brook, 2003) and makes for a great read-alike suggestion. As with his other titles, Tavares's strength lies in his inviting watercolor, pencil, and gouache illustrations, which convey here the majesty of the waterfall and Blondin's achievement, as well as the intensity of the hundreds of people who gathered to watch. Their alternately terrified and excited faces add depth to the story and draw the eye.
VERDICT A simple but effective biography about a remarkable talent expressed through striking visuals.

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