King of the Tightrope

When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara
In 1859, The Great Blondin took the most dangerous tightrope walk of his career—a death-defying walk across Niagara Falls. History and STEM combine for an edge-of-your-seat read.  
Price: $17.95
  • ISBN: 9781561459377
  • Publication date: 10/01/2019
  • Page Count: 48
  • Size: 10-7/8" x 8-3/4"
  • Age Range: 6-10


In 1859, The Great Blondin took the most dangerous tightrope walk of his career—a death-defying walk across Niagara Falls. History and STEM combine for an edge-of-your-seat read.

“Awesome, astounding, death-defying.”—Kirkus Reviews

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. Though his feats became more and more marvelous, he grew bored. That is, until he visited Niagara Falls and imagined doing something that no one else had ever accomplished.

To cross the raging river, The Great Blondin needed an engineering process, determination, and a belief that what he could imagine, he could accomplish. And in 1859, with all of his preparation complete, Blondin stepped out onto the most dangerous tightrope walk he’d ever faced.

Award-winning nonfiction author Donna Janell Bowman uses her trademark in-depth research to give readers a close look at 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. A fascinating, STEAM-filled story that will have readers holding their breath!


Donna Janell Bowman


Donna Janell Bowman is the author of a number of children’s books, including the award-winning Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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.


“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


Resources: Teacher's Guide

Teacher’s Guide

More Details

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