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Children's Fiction Post-confederation (1867-)

Until Niagara Falls

by (author) Jennifer Maruno

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2020
Post-Confederation (1867-), Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Friendship
Recommended Age
9 to 12
Recommended Grade
4 to 7
Recommended Reading age
9 to 12
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2020
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2020
    List Price

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Finalist, Hamilton Literary Award

Is friendship supposed to feel like walking over the falls?

Brenda is afraid of heights, being in the dark, and dog poop. Then she meets daring, rule-breaking Maureen and realizes their friendship is a bit like walking a tightrope — exciting but dangerous. Maureen encourages Brenda to use fire escapes, sleep outside in a tent, and walk through strange backyards.

Their friendship strains when Maureen makes fun of Harvey, Brenda's special needs neighbour. It strains even further when Maureen borrows Gran's bracelet and lies about returning it. Suddenly, Brenda realizes she has to be as brave as The Great Blondin, the man who walked across the falls, to get it back.

About the author

Jennifer Maruno began her publishing career with award winning educational materials for The Peel District School Board and the Ontario Ministry of Education. She is one of the authors of Explorations, a mathematics program for Addison-Wesley of Canada, and worked with TVO in developing teaching materials for the television show Mathica's Mathshop. For her contributions to educational writing, she received the Federation of Women Teachers Writing Award, the National Council of Teachers Award of Excellence and The Award of Merit from the National School Public Relations Association. She holds a Masters of Education, Principal's and Primary Specialists certification and is a graduate of the Institute of Children's Literature and the Humber School of Writers summer program.Her short stories have appeared in a variety of children's magazines in Great Britain, United States and Canada. Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Jennifer came from a book loving family. She worked as a library helper in the old red brick library on Victoria Avenue while attending Valley Way Public school. Her childhood ambition was to have a book with her name on the spine sitting on the shelf.Her first children's novel, When the Cherry Blossoms Fell won nominations for the Hackmatack and Young Readers of Canada Awards.Educator, researcher and author, Jennifer Maruno knows stories provide much more than entertainment. From the pages of Canadian history, she creates novels empathetic to those who have experienced the darker side of our past. Maruno's understanding of the importance of cultural identity has brought When the Cherry Blossoms Fell, Cherry Blossom Winter and Cherry Blossom Baseball based on the Japanese Internment and Warbird a novel of early Jesuit life among the Huron people.Details of Kid Soldier, Jennifer's fourth novel for children, come from her father's diary. He joined the Canadian Armed Forces under age and set out for England. Enroute Britain declared war. Totem, the story of a boy seeking his identity from the confines of a residential school, was written at a time most necessary to Truth & ReconciliationJennifer lives in Burlington, Ontario with her husband spending her time weeding her David Austin roses, writing and reading to grandchildren.Laurel Keating is an award-winning artist whose illustrations are familiar to Newfoundlanders. With an eye for detail and sympathy for all living things, Laurel brings her characters to life with warmth and humour. Children have delighted in her rich and colourful illustrations in Find Scruncheon and Touton (1 and 2) and Yaffle's Journey and Full Speed Ahead: Errol's Bell Island Adventure. She lives in scenic Portugal Cove, which she has called home all her life.

Jennifer Maruno's profile page


  • Short-listed, Hamilton Literary Award

Excerpt: Until Niagara Falls (by (author) Jennifer Maruno)

We live in Niagara Falls. People who visit call it the honeymoon capital of the world. People born here just call it The Falls. Gran says with all the traffic, noise, and crowds, life here is certainly no honeymoon.
Before school was out for the summer, everyone in my class had to do a project on someone or something that made The Falls famous. Our teacher told us about Annie Taylor, who went over the falls in a barrel with her cat. She wasn’t sure if the part about her cat being black at the beginning of the ride and white at the end was true, which made us all laugh. Most of the boys signed up for the other daredevils that plunged over the brink in some kind of crazy contraption or the collapse of the Honeymoon Bridge.
I chose Jean-François Gravelet, The Great Blondin. He was a funambulist. That’s the fancy name for a tightrope walker. The Great Blondin started with P.T. Barnum in his Greatest Show on Earth, but he was most famous for walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
During work period, I stared at the giant June calendar on the chalkboard, trying to think of a way to get extra marks. I’d given up the idea of walking a tightrope as a demonstration. I wasn’t brave enough to try to balance on a thick rope, even if it was only a foot off the ground.
Miss Heard, the other grade five teacher from across the hall, came to whisper something to my teacher. Miss Heard actually looked pretty when she covered her mouth with her hand. She had the worst set of crooked teeth in the world. I was relieved not to be in her class. I would never be able to stop staring at those teeth long enough to concentrate on my work.
“Brenda,” my teacher called out. “We need your help.”
I got out of my seat and went into the hallway. She probably wanted me to take a message to the principal’s office. I was the only kid in school who could find her way to the principal’s office and back without getting into trouble.
“Someone in Miss Heard’s class isn’t feeling well,” Miss Wilson explained. “She’s not sure of the way home.”
A skinny girl in a faded dress leaned against the wall.
“Rosedale Crescent is off of your street, isn’t it?” Miss Heard said.
I nodded.
“You have your grandmother’s permission to walk her home,” she said, putting the girl’s thin, clammy hand into mine. “Then you are dismissed.”
I opened my mouth in disbelief. It was only two o’ clock. We hadn’t even had afternoon recess. Most kids would have liked the idea of leaving early, but I didn’t. I would have to spend my extra time with Gran. She would make me help with some kind of housework, reminding me over and over again that someday I would have a house of my own. She didn’t know I planned to hire a servant.
“Just a minute,” I said and ran back to my desk. I grabbed my project notes and pencil case, along with every book from my desk, and stuffed them into my school bag. I had to make it look like I had a ton of homework.
“Her name is Maureen Sullivan,” Miss Heard said, taking us to the front of the school. Students didn’t usually use that door. It felt strange walking beside the school flower beds.
As I tightrope-walked the curb, I couldn’t help but notice the frayed laces of Maureen’s worn running shoes. One of her socks had lost its elastic, and it puddled about her ankle, looking, I guessed, the same way she felt.
I walked her to the corner, stopped, and waited. This was only out of habit. I had never seen a car drive up Homewood Avenue.
The cracks in the sidewalk here were bad. In between the dandelions, billions of ants lived in small, sandy mounds. Everyone who walked to school this way said these ants bit, and then they flattened a few mounds before moving on. I wondered why the ants kept on building their homes in the same spot.
Maureen took a big gulp of air. She looked like she might throw up.
“Let’s take a shortcut through the park,” I said, dragging her across the road.
“Good to know a shortcut,” she said with a thin smile. “We just moved here.”
“Where did you live before?” Gran still used the original names of places in the city, like Stamford Centre and Silvertown, places that didn’t exist anymore. I just went by places you could swim. “Did you live up by the Cyanamid swimming pool?” I asked. It was the biggest pool in the city, with a triple-decker diving board, and because it was connected to the canal, sometimes there were real fish in the water. It was too far away to walk, and Dad wouldn’t drive me because we had a perfectly good pool in the park at the end of our street.
“Were you near Chippawa Creek or Dufferin Islands?”
Maureen didn’t speak. She just shook her head slowly from side to side.
Dad was right. The park in our neighbourhood had everything a kid could want. There was a wading pool and a huge sandbox at one end. The adult pool had a deep end with a diving board. Behind that was a tree-topped hill with grown-up swings, slides, and teeter-totters. The hill was perfect for tobogganing.
Because of the baseball diamond and soccer field, it was a busy place in the summer. The Kiwanis Club ran a sports program. Once you turned ten you could join, and that was the trouble with having skipped a grade. Everyone in my class belonged but me.
“This is the municipal park,” I informed her, using my best presentation voice. As soon as I was old enough to work, I planned to be a tour guide. “The swimming pool has a deep end with a single diving board.”
“Uh-huh,” was all she said.
We cut across the baseball field. As we walked beside the pool’s chain-link fence, I looked through the wire diamonds. A couple of buckets of paint and some rollers sat in the empty shallow end. Soon the bottom would once again be bright blue and the sides sparkling white.
“They’re painting,” I said, dropping my school bag and clutching the wire for a good look. “You know what that means?”
Maureen shook her head and leaned against the fence post.
“It means when it’s dry, we can go swimming.”
A man in paint-splattered overalls came out of the door to the boys’ change room. “Hey, you two,” he yelled. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”
“Hi, Jasper,” I called back. “I have to take this girl home. She’s not feeling well.”
“Then get going,” he said. “Quit hanging around in the hot sun.”
I turned to Maureen, who sat on the cement with her back to the fence, eating something off her finger. I figured she must have found part of a cookie in her pocket. Then I watched in horror as she scraped her fingernail along a patch of dried bubble gum and put it in her mouth.
“You can’t do that,” I said with a grimace.
“Do what?”
“Eat stuff off the sidewalk.”
“It’s just gum.”
I didn’t offer my hand to help her get up.
We walked under the trees and across the grass until we reached Jepson Street.
Cars zipped up and down this street all the time. It got really busy in the summer because Jepson Street ended at Victoria Avenue, the street that took you to the falls. Here we had to wait, but I didn’t mind. Every house on the street had either an oak or an elm tree on the front lawn. The trees grew over the road, making a huge, leafy tunnel. It was the best way to go when biking to the library.
“Where do you live?” I asked before we turned on to Rosedale Crescent. But as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew. The lawn of the little green wooden house was full of furniture and cardboard boxes. A motorbike leaned against the front porch.
Children swam about the place like tadpoles. A red-cheeked baby slept beneath a blanket spread across two kitchen chairs.
A skinny woman in a halter top and tight pedal-pushers was sorting through the boxes. She looked up. Her blond curls had been dragged back into a ponytail. Frizzy pieces escaped all over, giving her a kind of golden halo. She had pale, freckled skin and bright-green eyes.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. Then she put her hand to Maureen’s forehead and sighed. “I guess it’s your turn,” she murmured, leading her by the hand up the porch steps. “Thank you for walking my daughter home,” she said as she opened the screen door.
Maureen’s mom wasn’t like the other moms I knew from school. She had a kind of teenager look, one that Gran wouldn’t like.
I looked at the baby sleeping on the lawn. She didn’t tell me to mind the baby, but I couldn’t just walk away and leave it. What if a giant dog snatched it up and ran off?
“Goodbye, Mrs. Sullivan,” I said, when she finally came back outside.
“Oh, goodbye,” she said to the inside of a cardboard box. Then she pulled out her head. “I hope you’ve had the chicken pox.”

Editorial Reviews

Author and educator Jennifer Maruno brings emotional range and tension to her sensitive and thoughtful historical fiction...Until Niagara Falls shines in its timeless portrayal of tweendom’s emotional churn.

Quill & Quire

1960s Niagara Falls is vividly portrayed in this charming story of two utterly different girls struggling toward friendship.

Karen Bass, author of The Hill

Until Niagara Falls is a true coming of age story, with Brenda learning more about what her family means to her, that friends are those dearer than just temporary excitement, and that she can accommodate many in her big heart.

CanLit for Little Canadians

Readers at any age may see themselves on the pages of this superb historical fiction novel — I know I did. Times have changed, styles have changed, even the expectations placed on children’s behaviour have changed, but children’s hopes, needs, and dreams never do … Until Niagara Falls proves it.

Claudia White, author of Sevalious Window

Jennifer Maruno forces her characters to walk the tightrope between right and wrong in order to escape loneliness. Compelling.

Sylvia McNicoll, author of the Great Mistake Mysteries

Until Niagara Falls is an excellent story with believable characters dealing with growing up, and it would be a fine read-aloud choice. The plot is fast paced, and the ending is both satisfying and heartwarming. Highly Recommended

CM: Canadian Review of Materials

Other titles by Jennifer Maruno