Thursday, June 20, 2013

Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg


Queen of the Falls
Van Allsburg, Chris.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011.

Quantitative Reading Level: Reading Level 4.0, Lexile 1060, Fountas and Pinnell R

Qualitative Reading Analysis:
As can be seen in even the quantitative reading level this is not a picture book designed for the younger students.  All you have to do is look at the text and you can see that there is a lot of it and it is quite dense on the page.  The level of meaning is fairly straightforward however, there are a few jumps in time that could confuse younger readers.  Because it is a historical text readers do need an understanding of the time period – the attitude toward women, the economic structure, the apparel.  The illustrations help with this aspect.  I would say that according to the “Text Complexity: Qualitative Measures Rubric for Literary Text” this book would be rate as middle low.

Sixty two year old Annie Edson Taylor was out of work, single, and needed a way to support herself or risk being sent to the poorhouse.  So she did what any other woman her age in the year 1901 would do – she went over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  Wait what?  Her idea was to gain notoriety, fame, and of course fortune.  Well, she succeeded in going over the falls.  Annie was first person to successfully go over the falls and remains the only woman to do so alone.  Unfortunately, she did not gain the notoriety, fame, and fortune she desired.  Her biggest problem?  Her age – few people believed someone as old as her could have survived and she didn’t really have the charisma to make a big name for herself.

Content Area: Reading/ELA, Social Studies

Content area standard:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.3 Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
  CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.5 Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
  CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.6 Compare and contrast a firsthand and secondhand account of the same event or topic; describe the differences in focus and the information provided.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.9 Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Curriculum Suggestions:
As a text about a historical event students can look at the way the text is organized and discuss why Chris Van Allsburg may have organized the text in that way.
There is a brand new book called Barreling Over Niagara Falls by Nancy Kelly Allen,  It would be great for students to read that book as well and compare how the two authors deal with the event and with Annie.  The book is also considered a picture book with a reading level of 5.0.
Students could also look at newspaper accounts of the actual event such as the newspaper article cited at
Students could discuss Annie choices.  Why did she feel she needed to do something?  What were the conditions for women and the elderly in 1901?
Compare and contrast the books of Chris Van Allsburg.

Chris Van Allsburg talks about the book:

Personal Thoughts: 
This is a very interesting book.  Growing up near Niagara Falls I had heard stories of the people who went over the Falls successfully and unsuccessfully.  I have been near the river and have seen the “point of no return”.  For students not familiar with Niagara Falls it would be great to expose them to the power of nature and the pluckiness of a real person who decided to take her fate into her own hands.

Subjects/Themes: Self-preservation, role of women, self-reliance

High Interest Annotation: If you were an elderly woman who was looking for a way to fund your retirement you’d go over Niagara Falls in a barrel – right?

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