Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday 4.20.16 - Crossing Niagara

Every Wednesday I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog is to give educational professionals
new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

Crossing Niagara: The Death-Defying Tightrope Adventures of the Great Blondin
Crossing Niagara:
by Matt Tavares
published by Candlewick Press

I fell in love with Matt Tavares' writing in last year's Growing Up Pedro.  See, as a Chicago White Sox fan, finding and enjoying a book about a Boston Red Sox player is not going to be easy.  But Tavares did it - I loved the way he framed and wrote the story.  He made me care about the person, not the figure.  I fell in love with Tavares' illustrations in Lady Liberty by Doreen Rappaport.  The colors and full layouts are stunning.

When I found out Tavares had a new book coming out, I knew it was a must-have.  And it did not disappoint!

Crossing Niagara is the story of the Great Blondin's "residency" at Niagara Falls.  Think of it like how recent celebrities set up extended stays in Las Vegas.  Not only did the Great Blondin cross Niagara on a three inch tightrope one time.  Once he got to the other side, he turned around and did it again.  Over the course of a year, Blondin repeated his crossing, always adding extra tricks and surprises.

When sharing this book with students, you must go back and notice what Tavares did as a writer.  Go back and look for what he did to add suspense.  As the reader turns the pages, the constant question of "is he going to make it?" is asked.  I kept waiting for the inevitable fall.  If you're like me, you'll want to skip to the end just to make sure all ends up ok (spoiler alert:  all is good).  

As I read the book, I found myself wrapped up in the story.  The suspense keeps you turning the page, but I realized I was also invested in the Great Blondin's story.  I wanted to know more about him and his life.  This is a testament to Tavares' writing - he makes you care about the character.  I tried to figure out what it is that made the story so engaging. I think that Tavares did a great job showing Blondin's determination - checking his own wires, always thinking about the next thing, going for the more complicated.  I also liked how Tavares added the "other side" - that the owner of land Blondin wanted to start on said no, that he wanted no part of it.  And the opposite, his manager trusted in his abilities so much he agreed to be carried over the water, not once but twice! 

You cannot talk about this book without taking a moment to appreciate the illustrations.  Tavares did a fantastic job capturing the grandeur of Niagara Falls.  Adding to the suspense of the story, the visualization adds to the fear and questioning of "is he going to make it?"  I really enjoyed the illustrations of Blondin's tricks and paused to admire the illustrations - Tavares makes it comical while capturing the death-defying moment.  And then the four page layout just takes your breath away.

Crossing Niagara is a great example of nonfiction storytelling.  This book will draw in readers of all ages and will appeal to everyone.  Great addition for your classroom library!

Visit Matt Tavares' blog and read about his on-site research for this book.

Take a look at the teacher's guide and get some ideas how you can use this book.


  1. Thanks for your informative review. This sounds like a fascinating book. I've been to Niagara a few times and can't imagine anyone crossing it this way (my hands got sweaty just reading your review).

  2. Great review, Michele. I did love Growing Up Pedro, so will note this one, too. I've never seen Niagara Falls, maybe someday, but still can't imagine someone crossing the falls on a tightrope. Wow! Thanks for all you shared about this new book by Matt Tavares!

  3. I love your analysis of what makes his writing so powerful.
    It would be interesting to pair this book with The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.

  4. I love your analysis of what makes his writing so powerful.
    It would be interesting to pair this book with The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.

  5. Fascinating narrative nonfiction titles like this are great tools for connecting kids with nonfiction. This story sounds as exciting as any fictional story, perfect for kids who are convinced that history is boring, and that nonfiction titles are dull as dishwater. Thanks for sharing this! I haven't been to Niagara Falls since I was a kid, your post brought back memories for sure. :)

  6. Wow! I can't wait to read this one. I too loved Growing Up Pedro. Since I visited Niagara Falls for the first time in 2014 and again in 2015, I am eager to see how he does the illustrations. The falls are just so amazing.

  7. I can't wait to read this one for sure. I remember reading Chris Van Alllsburg's book about Niagra Falls.

  8. Oh, Matt Tavares! You are so talented!! Thank you for reviewing this one; I have been seeing his posts on FB, but didn't know much about it.