Balloons Over BroadwayWritten and Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published Houghton Mifflin Books 2011
A Caldecott Honor Winner
Balloons Over Broadway is a nonfiction book about the designer of the Macy's Day Parade balloons, Tony Sarg. "Tony Sarg loved to figure out how to make things move. He once said he became a marionette man when he was only six years old." Tony started out by making a pulley system that could open and feed the chicken coop from his bed when he was young. He succeeded and when he grew up he went to London and began to make puppets. After London he moved to New York City and performed with his Marionettes on Broadway.
Macy's heard about Tony and "asked him to design a "puppet parade" for the store's holiday windows. This lead them into asking Tony to help Macy's put on a parade for their employees that were immigrants for the holidays. Tony, who was an immigrant himself, decided to help make a street carnival like parade so that the employees did not miss their own traditions so much. The first one included costumes, horse drawn floats, and animals from the zoo on Thanksgiving Day in 1924. It was a success and Macy's decided to have it every year but soon the lions and tigers that were added scared the children so again Tony was called on to "think of something SPECTACULAR" to replace the animals. He thought of his puppets and had heavy blimp type material made of rubber. He decided to put them on sticks to move them down the street. These were a success but Tony realized that they would be seen by more if they floated in the air. He worked on a new design that would be an upside down puppet.
He worked with the company out of Ohio that made blimps to make a rubberized silk and the balloons would be filled with Helium. They were a huge success and have been seen every year since!
|Balloon 1927 with pole|
|1937 with Helium the "sky marionette"|
Photos from National Museum of American History
Melissa presented this book in a way that would be very interesting to children. She used gouache, collage, and mixed media and include a small piece about the art in the back of the book. She states that she "used paper from old books to make papier-mache puppets, found objects, and fabrics to create fun colleges to illustrate what it may have felt like to be in Sarg's world." She used great proportion and double pages spreads to show just how big the balloons were compared to the other pieces of the parade. Some of the colors that she used gave an antique feel that starts on the end pages giving you the feel that you are going back in time to see something very special. She also starts out with a photograph of Tony Sarg and a quote from him done in college. Everything was perfectly planned and placed on the page. For example there is one page that you have to turn the book to read and the illustrations are vertical. This is done to show the new and improved "upside down marionette". There is also one page that is done with a silhouette of Tony when he was trying to come up with an idea to get his balloons to work. This shift in illustration helps the page to stand out and it helps the reader to realize that this was an important moment. Sweet discusses why she used this for dramatic effect in an interview about the book. The illustrations in this book are what make it such a good informational book. The story itself is easy to read and tell a great story about Sarg and his development of the balloons but the illustrations bring the history of it to life.
This is a great book that gives some history to something that most people in America are familiar with. I remember watching the Thanksgiving Parade every morning as my mom and grandma worked to prepare Thanksgiving lunch and dinner. It was a very special time for me and something that I will continue with my daughter. I loved reading about the history behind Sarg and the balloons and I think that Sweet did it in a way that is very intriguing and easy to understand for children. I can't wait to add this book to my classroom library and use it when Thanksgiving rolls around and we discuss traditions.
watch a reading of the book from You Tube
Check out these sites!
An Interview with Melissa Sweet
Article In Publisher's Weekly about Balloons Over Broadway
Here is a free activity kit to do with the book!