King of the Tightrope

King of the Tightrope:
When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara

Written by Donna Janell Bowman
Illustrated by Adam Gustavson

Have you ever watched an acrobat balance on a tightrope? Could you imagine if that acrobat abandoned his safety net and decided to brave a challenge no other person had ever imagined? Well, in 1859, Jean-Francois Gravelet, known as The Great Blondin, did just that when he walked across Niagara Falls on nothing more than a tightrope.

At the age of four, Jean-Francois Gravelet walked across his first balance beam. Later, he took to the tightrope like a spider to its web, and with his family troupe, he climbed toward stardom. Known as The Great Blondin, his feats became more and more marvelous, but he was bored. That is, until he visited Niagara Falls and imagined doing something that no one else had ever accomplished. It would take courage to cross the falls, but Blondin first had to figure out how to get a rope across the rushing water, what kind of rope and knots to use, and how to handle the huge sag in the middle of the walking rope. In 1859, with all of the work completed, Blondin would step out onto the most dangerous tightrope walk he’d ever faced.

This thrilling new nonfiction picture book features author Donna Janell Bowman’s trademark in-depth research, which gives readers a clear and exciting look into the accomplishments of The Great Blondin, as well as the hard work, determination, and meticulous mathematic and scientific planning it took to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Adam Gustavson’s detailed illustrations bring The Great Blondin’s most daring steps to life, inspiring readers of all ages.

Dive deeper into the world of The Great Blondin with this free teacher’s guide.

“The lifelike gouache-and-watercolor illustrations are rich with the drama and tension of Blondin’s performances… Bowman conjures the sheer magnitude of his Niagara endeavor as she describes the calculations, equipment, and manpower needed to simply get Blondin’s rope from one shore to the other. And like the spectators there on June 30, 1859, readers will hold their breath as the Frenchman makes his legendary walk.” —Booklist

“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… Theatrical lighting, stunning perspectives, and arresting close-ups convey the intensity of Blondin’s feats… Awesome, astounding, death-defying.”—Kirkus Reviews

Pick up your copy of King of the Tightrope this October at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble, and be on the lookout for the rest of our new Fall 2019 titles and those coming to Peachtree in paperback.

Can’t wait until October? Read an excerpt.