I told myself I wasn’t going to post anything today except a happy Thanksgiving message, but I just cannot resist sharing a book we found at the library on Monday. I know it’s too late to read it before this year’s Thanksgiving, but consider this an early recommendation for next year. Or you could just read it after Thanksgiving–it’s so good, and only tangentially about Thanksgiving anyway–that I think you’ll love it whenever you read it.
Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet is one of those books that makes me smile the whole way through it. That is, I’m smiling when my mouth is not agape over all the whimsical and intricately detailed illustrations. It’s hard to say what makes this book so good–the illustrations or the story. Actually, like all outstanding picture books, it’s the combination of the two, and Melissa Sweet gets it right all the way around on this one. Balloons over Broadway is the story of Tony Sarg, the genius behind the huge floats we know and love from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Of course, like all good stories, this one begins long, long ago, back in Tony’s childhood. As a child, Tony had quite the engineering mind and loved figuring out how to make things move. In fact, when given the daily early morning task of feeding the chickens, Tony rigged up a pulley system from his bedroom to the chicken coop so that he could open the door to the coop and let the chickens out to their feed without even getting out of bed. As an adult he began making marionettes, and his lifelike puppets were soon performing on Broadway. This led him to a job at Macy’s, where he was asked to design a window display for the holidays–a “puppet parade.” This was a hit, so Macy’s then commissioned Tony to do something even grander: put together a parade for the immigrant employees who longed for the fanfare of the holidays they celebrated in their native lands. After this, the parade just got bigger and bigger, with the Tony’s crowning achievement being figuring out how to engineer a marionette (of sorts) that would float instead of hang down–one that could be “articulated” (moved in precise ways) but still be seen high above the crowded New York City sidewalks.
Melissa Sweet is not just a wonderfully talented artist (more on that in a minute), she is also a talented wordsmith. She distills this somewhat complicated story into something that preschoolers and young elementary aged kids will love. My favorite part in the whole book is this description of Tony’s floats, set free for the first time: “Nodding and waving to the crowds below, they sailed past Central Park. They sallied down Broadway. They shimmied and swayed through the canyons of New York City.” I thought to myself, Canyons of New York City? And then I answered myself (not audibly, thank goodness!), Of course! All of the tall buildings create a canyon for the parade to meander through! I love that. The story is even a little bit suspenseful–as we read of Tony’s development of the floats, we wondered: Will this be the time he gets it right? Of course, he finally does, and we were all smiles.
The other part of this lovely equation is the illustrations, and really, I don’t feel like I can adequately describe how wonderful they are. Sweet‘s drawings are whimsical and, well, sweet, but there’s an added element and layer to them because she also includes lots of mixed media and collage. Pair that with lots of fun ransom note typography and this is a truly memorable picture book. Go here and scroll down a bit to see what I mean.
Are you convinced yet? This book came out at the beginning of November, so it missed the cut off for this year’s Cybils, but I’m holding onto it for next year! I won’t be surprised in the least if it makes a showing for next year’s Caldecott. Remember: you heard it here first! 🙂
Seriously, folks–find this book, even after you’re stuffed with turkey and cranberry sauce and this year’s parade is but a distant memory. I think you’ll love it! (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)