Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead
A little boy named Sebastian is having a very boring day even though he is up on the top of the roof where he’s never supposed to be. So he decides to head on a journey. First, he packs everything he needs, then he heads for the hot air balloon he made from his grandmother’s afghans and quilts. He sets off and meets a bear next to a leafless tree. He offers the bear a pickle sandwich and the bear joins him on his journey. Flying in the fog, they hear a loud pop and find that a bird has flown into the balloon. They land atop a a colorful worn house where three sisters help them knit their balloon together again. As the three elderly ladies work, they mention the time that they went over the mountain as children and found a rollercoaster. You can guess where they all headed next!
Stead has created a quiet and lovely book here. It is an adventure book, but somehow it is imbued with a gentleness and dreaminess. Perhaps it is the balloon flight, the drifting and silence and quiet of that mode of transportation. Or it could be the fog, the friendly bear, and the three grandmothers. It all adds up to a wonderfully whimsical book that dances along dreamily.
Stead’s illustrations are always a treat. I love that his protagonist is a little boy of color, someone who glows against the background, who is resourceful, smart and creative. The three grandmothers, each with their own color that is also represented in their home, are drawn with a humor that is gentle and gorgeous. The entire book sings of whimsy and imagination.
Ideal for bedtime reading, this book is sure to create dreams of hot air balloon rides and an array of friends. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
This companion novel to Elijah of Buxton continues the story of the town of Buxton and the people who live there. This book, which takes place forty years after the first book, is the story of two boys, Benji and Red. Benji, who lives in Buxton, dreams of becoming a newspaper reporter. He has two pesky younger siblings who also happen to be gifted builders with wood. That doesn’t mean though that Benji doesn’t try to put them in their place when they need it. Benji also has a way with the forest, spending hours walking the trails and exploring. He is one of the first to see the Madman of Piney Woods. Red is a scientist. He’s been raised by his father and maternal grandmother, who hates anyone who isn’t Irish like she is. She is strict with Red, smacking him regularly with her cane hard enough to raise a lump. When the two boys meet, they immediately become friends even though their backgrounds are so different. But can their friendship withstand the brimming hatred of some people in their communities?
I loved Elijah of Buxton so much and I started this book rather gingerly, hoping that it would be just as special as the original. Happily, it certainly is. It has a wonderful feeling to it, a rich storytelling that hearkens back to Mark Twain and other classic boyhood friendship books. Curtis makes sure that we know how different these two boys are: one with a large family, the other small, different races, different points of view. Yet it feels so right when the two boys are immediate friends, readers will have known all along that they suit one another.
Curtis explores deep themes in this novel, offering relief in the form of the exploits of the two boys as they figure out ways to mess with their siblings and escape domineering grandmothers. There are scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny. Other scenes though are gut-wrenching and powerful. They explore themes like the damage done to the psyche during wars, racism, ambition, responsibility and family ties. It is a testament to the writing of Curtis that both the humor and the drama come together into an exquisite mix of laughter and tears.
A great novel worthy of following the award-winning original, this book will be met with cheers by teachers and young readers alike. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.