When Annie Edson Taylor’s work as a finishing teacher dried up, the elderly woman comes up with a plan to secure her financial future. All she needs is a well made, customized barrel and everything else will fall into place. Ms. Taylor made a mistake when looking to hire someone to make the barrel by telling him that she was going to use the barrel to go over Niagara Falls. Not wanting to be associated with a death, the craftsman refuses to build the barrel.
Ms. Taylor was not to be thwarted, eventually persuades the craftsman to build her barrel with is accommodations to help keep her in place, including pillows. A local is hired to place her at just the right point above Niagara Falls. She gets a manager to help build crowds for the event. Many of the people that day were surprised to see a woman of more than sixty years, expecting someone much younger from the hype.
I do not even want to imagine what it felt like to ride over those falls and the terror that had to battle against Ms. Taylor’s body. This book captures the uneasy silence as the crowd waited to see if the barrel rider survived. Chris Van Allsburg’s foray into nonfiction doesn’t end with Ms. Taylor’s removal from the barrel or with her recovery from the feat. It details the disappointing aftermath of what was meant to capture popular attention and transform it into income. Untrustworthy agents, the dubious audiences and the theft of her barrel spoil Ms. Taylor’s circuit. She ultimately ended up back at the Falls, with a stand and a replacement barrel, eking out a living from minor tourist trade.
I enjoyed losing myself in the black-and-white illustrations in this book and the historical details throughout. At the end of the book is further information about other riders to take the plunge over the falls. Ms. Taylor remains the only woman to do so alone.
This would be a great picture book to share at the start of a biography unit or to hand a student with interest in the extreme.