Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares (9780763677329, Amazon)
This picture book biography tells the story of Sophie Blanchard, the first woman to fly on her own. In the 18th century, France was filled with “balloonmania.” Every balloonist was male and they were breaking records. Meanwhile, a girl was growing up by the seaside and dreaming of flight. When she met the famous balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the two realized they had a shared passion for flight. They were soon married and started flying together. After two shared flights, Sophie went up alone and became the first woman to fly a balloon solo. Her husband died from a heart attack and fall from a balloon and Sophie stopped flying for awhile. Eventually, she flew again and earned a living with her flight. Napoleon made her Aeronaut of the Official Festivals and Chief Air Minister of Ballooning.
Smith offers exactly the right amount of detail in this picture book. The dangers of ballooning are mentioned but not dwelled upon, just like the death of Jean-Pierre. Sophie’s own death in a balloon is only mentioned in the Author’s Note which also speaks to how little is actually known about her despite her accomplishments. Her childhood, in particular, is unknown and Smith created some of the details himself. Throughout the book, it is the wonder of human flight that is the focus and that unites Sophie’s adult life with her childhood dreams.
Tavares has illustrated this picture book with period details that capture the balloons and the fragility of the baskets. In other illustrations, he captures the sky and the expanse that Sophie is flying into. Two illustrations mirror one another with darker skies as Sophie dreams as a girl of flying and when she returns to flight after her husband’s death.
An important picture book about a brave and groundbreaking woman who refused to be limited by the rest of the world. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bird, Balloon, Bear by Il Sung Na (9780399551550, Amazon, GoodReads)
This is another beautiful picture book for the smallest of children from this author/illustrator. Bird is new to the forest and hoping to make a friend. He spots Bear but can’t quite get up the courage to speak with him. Suddenly though, he sees that Bear has a friend already: a red balloon. Bear plays all day with Balloon, even watching the sunset together. Then one day, a wind gust carries Balloon up into the sky. Bird who has been watching the entire time, tries to rescue Balloon but it’s too late. Balloon pops. Over the shreds of the balloon, Bird and Bear finally meet and soon they have become real friends.
This picture book looks at the pressures of trying to make a new friend, the shyness that naturally arises during that time, and how to move beyond it. The use of a balloon as the other friend is very clever, allowing Bear to have a close friend of sorts but also allowing even the youngest child to realize that Bird would always have made a much more fun and compelling friend from the start.
The illustrations are playful and light. Done on white backgrounds, the bright colors shine on the page. The forest is filled with purples, blues and greens while the sunset emerges with yellows and reds. Still, the illustrations are simple and friendly. Bear is round and cuddly while Bird is a burst of red color and quiet inquisitiveness.
The complications of new friendship have never been lovelier. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
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 Big Wet Balloon by Liniers
Inspired by his daughters aged 3 and 5, this book celebrates a rainy day. When Matilda wakes up on a Saturday morning, she is delighted by everything she can do that day. Clemmie, her little sister, gets excited too. But then their day turns out to be filled with rain. Matilda is undaunted and sets out to persuade Clemmie to join her out in the rain. Clemmie is very hesitant, insisting that it is wet, until Matilda shows her the umbrella and how to use it. Clemmie then enjoys the rain until her red balloon floats off when she gets too excited. But Matilda finds a way to make that right as well.
Liniers shows his adoration for his daughters in this book. Clemmie is clearly a toddler and expresses herself in early sentences and short words. Matilda is an enthusiastic older sibling who wants to spend time out in the weather. It is a pleasure to see a sibling relationship depicted with such warmth and evident love for one another. Matilda is never frustrated by the situation, always coming up with another way to approach it. The words and art dance together here. Both help tell this story of a rainy and wet Saturday.
My children always loved rain more than sun, so this is a book that they would have loved. Time to get out rain slickers and umbrellas and play in the rain! Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Perfectly Percy by Paul Schmid
Percy is a porcupine and one of his favorite things of all are balloons! But it’s hard when you are a prickly porcupine, balloons don’t last long at all. So Percy decides to figure out how he can solve the problem with balloons. He thinks and thinks, but no good ideas come to him. He tries hanging upside down, riding his tricycle, but nothing. It’s not until he’s having breakfast that suddenly he has an amazing, incredible idea!
Schmid’s story is quite simple, focused on one little porcupine’s problem with balloons and how he solves it. I appreciate a picture book that gives so many pages over to coming up with a solution and just thinking and thinking. It makes for a thoughtful and quiet book. Best of all, Percy comes up with the solution all on his own with no adult help.
The illustrations here have a wonderful feel to them. Done in simple lines with pastel backgrounds, Percy shines. Throughout the book has a cheery feel, one never doubts that Percy will find a solution to his problem. Once that solution is found, the cheer turns to sheer joy and delight. That is one merry porcupine.
Thoughtful and empowering, this book stays jolly as well. Percy would be a perfect addition to story times. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Harper Collins.
Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet
For over 80 years, there have been huge balloons in the Macy’s Parade. We have Tony Sarg to thank for that. Even when Tony was a small boy, he was inventing things. He figured out a way to feed the chickens in the morning without having to get out of bed. He wanted to be a marionette puppeteer, but was born in a time when marionettes were not being used anymore. So he figured out how to build them and started performing on Broadway with his marionettes. From there, he got a job designing the holiday windows for Macy’s where he did puppets that moved through gears and pulleys. After that, he started working on parades. He first built balloons that were held by stiff sticks, but they needed to be higher so more people could see. So out of necessity and through tremendous creativity, he figured out how to make balloons fly high but still be controlled and seem lifelike. We are all lucky enough to still be able to see the work of Sarg every Thanksgiving in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
This book is all about dreaming big and then figuring out a way to make those huge dreams come to life. Sarg’s life is also about following your own personal bliss and making a living doing what you love. It is a tribute to creativity and imagination on a grand scale. Sweet has created a book that celebrates all of this and remains a biography of a real man too.
Her art is a tremendous part of the book’s success. Through a mix of painting and collage, she brings Sarg’s world to life. Fabrics, different paper, objects and maps all find their way into the illustrations, creating new textures, dimension and color. They are illustrations that celebrate on almost every page, filled with bright colors and ingenuity.
Highly recommended, this book should be added to everyone’s must read list for Thanksgiving titles, but don’t keep it just for that time of year. It is also a great book to discuss creativity and unusual jobs! Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
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