Book Looks

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

The Columbus Dispatch’s Nancy Gilson shares more of her reviews of unusual subjects in new picture-book biographies.

The first is called Queen of the Falls (Houghton Mifflin, 40 pages, $18.99, ages 4 to 8) and it’s written by Chris Van Allsburg. In this book, the creator of The Polar Express turns to nonfiction with the remarkable story of 62-year-old Annie Edson Taylor, who in 1901 rode over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survived — but never got rich. That had been her goal: to make enough money from the stunt to keep her out of the poorhouse. The story of how Taylor designed the barrel, followed by her plunge over the thundering falls, is thrilling. In words and brown-toned pictures, Van Allsburg captures the dizzying drama.

The second book is called Nurse, Soldier, Spy (Abrams, 40 pages, $18.95, ages 9 to 12), and it’s written by Marissa Moss and illustrated by John Hendrix. It’s the unusual Civil War story of Sarah Emma Edmonds — who at 19 dressed as a man to become Frank Thompson, Union soldier — is presented in a high-energy book that uses pen-and-ink and acrylic illustrations with oversize type to emphasize dramatic passages of the text. Edmonds was so good as a soldier (and a man) that she went on to become a spy for the Union Army and, later, the first and only woman recognized as a Civil War veteran.