I often get book recommendations on my facebook page, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to find another great children's book at my local library. This recommendation, Balloons Over Broadway, is from our very own Maria. She knows my son loves and is drawn to anything 'mechanical' in nature, and this book captured his attention and imagination. Thanks, Maria! This book did not disappoint.
I knew I'd love this book from the cover because true-stories always inspire me, and there aren't that many by way of children's titles. When I opened up the hard cover, I was immediately in love. Ever since I was a kid I have had a love with multimedia illustrations. This book is chock-full of them, and the artwork meshes wonderfully with the subject matter. I hope the artist, Melissa Sweet, gets another Caldecott Honor or Medal for this brilliant piece of work.
Balloons Over Broadway is the true story of a puppeteer named Tony Sarg who created simple machines to finish chores, marionettes to give children and adults alike joy and wonder, and finally, puppets with mechanical underbellies including cogs, gears, and pulleys. He became well known for his artistry and was given an opportunity of a lifetime: to create a "Wondertown" for Macy's department store in New York City. The book doesn't mention if the infamous Macy's Christmas window displays were already in demand, or if Sarg was the first creator of the magical scenes, but his Wondertown was decked out with puppets and storybook characters that mechanically moved.
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To let Sweet tell us the story in her own words, "[But] Macy's had an even bigger job in store for Tony. Many of the people working at Macy's were immigrants, and as the holidays approached, they missed their own holiday traditions of music and dancing in the streets. Macy's agreed to put on a parade for their employees, and they hired Tony to help."
The story continues of Tony's trial and error with balloon size and material, filler, and mechanical workings, finally settling on the floats we know today in the annual Macy's Parade! Within the story are photographs of metal tools, toys, fabric scraps, buttons; illustrations on graph paper as Tony worked out the math, puppet stills, (like above), and bits and bops that make books like this so darn interesting to look through. Well done, Ms. Sweet. Balloons Over Broadway is simply fantastic.