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The Twenty-One Balloons: 10/01/09
In The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène Du Bois, Professor William Waterman Sherman, an eccentric retired school teacher is rescued on a raft of twenty-one balloons somewhere over the Atlantic. He had last been seen some months earlier leaving for a trip across the Pacific Ocean in his own carefully designed balloon craft.
Sherman is taken back via train to San Francisco where he will be met with parades and other special events. Although the San Francisco scenes serve as a comedic outline for Sherman's adventures in the Pacific, they make for a fascinating comparison to modern day San Francisco. I kept imagining Gavin Newsom in period duds.
Most of the book though is told in flashback. It covers his flight over the Pacific with scenes that will bring to mind Up (minus the stowaway) and his time on the island of Krakatoa.
Krakatoa of course blew up in 1873 and readers will be waiting to see how Sherman and the families he meet on Krakatoa survive the blast and how Sherman ends up alone and adrift. Before the explosion though, Sherman experiences a food based economy that is supported by a large secret diamond mine.
The inclusion of the diamond mine has caused some controversy for the book over the years. It is superficially similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz." The diamond secrecy though is just one small part of a very creative and entertaining children's adventure story.
The book won the Newberry Medal in 1947.
Comment #1: Saturday, October, 3, 2009 at 07:15:12
It's been a while since I read this but it was a read aloud to my son at the time and I remember it being an absolute favourite for him (and enjoying myself). I'm a big fan of Du Bois as an illustrator as well. I'll often pick up a book just because he illustrated it.
Comment #2: Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 19:44:32
I'm holding onto the book to read to my son and daughter. I think they will enjoy it too.