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King of the Tightrope
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King of the Tightrope

When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara

by Donna Janell Bowman
illustrated by Adam Gustavson

In 1859, Jean-Francois Gravelet, known as The Great Blondin, walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. What kind of man would do something like that? And more importantly, how do you become that man?

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. 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.

Author Donna Janell Bowman’s trademark in-depth research 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 turn this book into an experience that will inspire readers of all ages.

Format: Hardcover
Price: $17.95
ISBN: 978-1-56145-937-7
Publication Date: 10/1/2019
Page Count: 48
Size: 10-7/8″ x 8-3/4″
Age Range: 6 – 10
Language: English
F&P: S, Gr 4, Genre B
Lexile: 700L
Themes: Engineering, Problem Solving, Performing Arts
BISAC 1: JNF007060 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Biography & Autobiography / Performing Arts
BISAC 2: JNF039010 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Performing Arts / Circus


“Bowman makes this longer text accessible to a wide range of readers. Gustavson’s gouache and watercolor images transport readers into Blondin’s world…. This well-researched, riveting biography will inspire readers.” —School Library Journal

“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


Best Children’s Books of the Year ―Bank Street College of Education, 2020

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Meet the Author

Donna Bowman

Donna Janell Bowman is the author of Step Right Up. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Texas. You can visit her website here.

Meet the Illustrator

Adam Gustavson

Adam Gustavson is the illustrator of more than twenty books for children, as well as numerous periodicals. He holds a master of fine arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York, and teaches at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He lives in New Jersey. You can visit his website here.