Friday, June 27, 2008

The Twenty-One Balloons

I was surprised by how much I liked The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pène du Bois - an older Newbery winner (1948 winner) - especially since I'd never even heard of it before this project.

I'm pretty sure I would have liked this as a child, too - I loved Jules Verne (especially Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), and this reminded me a lot of that, though The Twenty-One Balloons was a lot more light-hearted. Also, my eleven year old son enjoyed The Twenty-One Balloons as much as I did, and our tastes don't overlap that much. So I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this book should appeal to a pretty broad audience. In fact, I think it is definitely an under-appreciated, underrated classic.

William Pène du Bois' quirky, rambling writing style appealed to me as much as the story did. Who wouldn't like "a balloon in which I could float around out of everybody's reach....to be where no one would bother me for perhaps one full year" (p. 40), at least on some days?

This story of 66-year-old retired mathematics teacher Professor William Waterman Sherman, who stumbles on a secret society on the supposedly uninhabited Pacific island of Krakatoa just before its 1883 explosion, is definitely one of the most whimsical Newbery winners I've read. There's a lot about balloons; their construction and their lifting power and the mechanics of rigging a basket, a couch, a house, and a huge platform up to them. There's economy, government, and exotic restaurants, and kids who get to invent incredible things. It's a great mix of science and fantasy, appropriate for all ages. Why isn't this book better known?

Funnily enough, my family just watched a Mythbusters episode (Larry's Lawn-Chair Balloon- myth confirmed) about a guy who attached a lawn chair to a bunch of weather balloons. And tonight we're going to check out Heliosphere, an "enchanting outdoor spectacle of aerialist performers suspended from a larger-than-life helium balloon" at Ann Arbor's Top of the Park festival, just to continue the theme.

7 comments:

Amanda (the librarian) said...

Great review! You really make me want to read this book.

If you ever have a chance, go to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It is absolutely spectacular!

KT said...

I bought this book on a whim when I was probably 10. I think I thought the cover looked really cool or something. Anyway. I loved it then. I thought it was the coolest book ever.

I was very surprised when I realized how old it was.

Elizabeth said...

I read this as a kid and loved it, but got it mixed up in my head with one of the Verne books, and so couldn't remember what it was called.

I still remember the house with the furniture that folds back into the floor...

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