Book Review: Balloons Over Broadway

Next Thursday is Thanksgiving and the Macy’s Parade will be broadcast across the country.  This picture book tells the fascinating story of the parade’s beginnings.

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's ParadeBalloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Growing up with Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, the balloons were special because they were soooo big and because they were familiar old friends returning once a year. Melissa Sweet, however, brings a new sense of wonder to the story: how did someone even come up with the idea? It was not as simple as enlarging balloons, as I had assumed; instead, in a way, they are marionettes flipped upside-down. Now that’s the kind of creative solution I want my students exposed to.

When thinking about the experience of a child reader, furthermore, Sweet includes the usual childhood vignette well. The main of the book is about play, so why not discuss the work that balloon-creator Tony Sarg had to do as a child? There is also an realistic immediacy to a child’s successful effort to get out of doing his chores that more common and more didactic “he studied hard and one day grew up to be…” lacks.

The illustrations’ pastiche reminded me simultaneously of two recently-reviewed picture books: Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet and How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum? Sweet, like Thurlby, uses vintage paper to set a literally background mood. She uses other bits of vintage and contemporary flotsam to capture, as did Jessie Hartland, the chaos of creativity so convincingly that I half expected to have to rip apart a couple of pages, as if Sarg’s glues and paints had stepped right out of the pages.

Finally, it contains the best pronunciation guide ever: “Sarg rhymes with aargh!”

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