Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois

I remember just adoring this book when I was a kid. It was fantastical, subtly hilarious, and the children didn't have to go to school. Who among us hasn't wished we could just go away for a year, floating about in a funny little house, not having to deal with other people (particularly if one has a well-stocked library of small-print paperbacks along for the ride.) The story was so unique and brought in so many fascinating elements - Shipwreck! Hot-air balloons! Krakatoa! Diamonds! Inventions! Volcanoes! What's not to like?
Professor Sherman is retired and wants to spend a year flying around the world being blown hither and yon in his cleverly constructed bamboo house suspended from the second largest hot air balloon ever. Instead after just a short while he is wrecked on the volcanic island of Krakatoa which he discovers is inhabited by a group of well-to-do, eccentric families.

As an adult I also really liked the style. I love the era in which it's set (1890s), and the way the story is structured with the lone known survivor showing up first and then a lot of tempting about the story before he finally tells it. It's very skillfully done but I don't think most children would have any idea how carefully the book has been constructed. Mr. Du Bose has done such a good job, it is invisible to the reader. There are also bits that are quite funny but Mr. Du Bose treats them perfectly straight which is as it should be. I loved those kinds of details. Also the book is illustrated throughout by the author who was apparently multi-talented. The pictures really add to the book as a lot of the inventions and ballooning information would have gone over my head without the pictures.

I get why this won the Newbery. It probably has a strong appeal to boys with the inventions and adventure, but I also loved it as a child and today. A clever and sophisticated, inventive story.

I cannot find the image that was on the copy I read as a child but I think this cover treatment is very cool. I do not at all like the cover copy on the edition (Puffin) I reread which implies the story is going to be Prof. Sherman's attempted escape from the crazy Krakatoans who have kidnapped him - which is completely bogus.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.


Julie P. said...

This book sounds wonderful. I always say that I need to go back and read/re-read all of the Newbery Honor books! I haven't read this one!

bermudaonion said...

I'm wondering how in the world I missed this book - it sounds fantastic!

chamber said...

I have this book.....I've never read it. Guess what I'm going to dig out of the closet tonight?