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review 2014-12-28 03:20
Review: The Twenty One Balloons by William Pene du Bois
The Twenty One Balloons - William Pène du Bois

[Still reading children's books. Why we have them around is covered in this review. Short version: children's reading program, public schools.]


Oddly I'd read about this book before I realized there was a copy lying around here. In the book Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883 (link to my vague review of mostly quotes) by Simon Winchester, this book is mentioned in the chapter called Recommendations for (and, in One Case Against) Further Reading and Viewing. It's not one that Winchester is recommending you avoid, if you were curious. But he does give a plot summary, and I am lazy so I'll quote. (The fact that I have the book handy is another reason to do this. It's rare that this happens.) So um, spoilers?


p 386: ...a slim volume of a children's book, published to near-universal  praise in 1947...


...The children's story was The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois: it won America's reknowned Newbery Medal in 1948, and has never been out of print since. It tells the story of  a math teacher from San Francisco named William Waterman Sherman, who flies in a balloon westward across the Pacific, crash-landing (after seagulls pecked holes in the silk fabric) on what turns out to be "the Pacific island of Krakatoa." Here the impeccably dressed locals are all fabulously rich, since the volcano in the island's center sits directly on top of an immense diamond mine.


The resulting story is all about the professor's adventures among the remarkable people of a utopia, which, because of the eruption of 1883, swiftly becomes a dangerous dystopia. All have to flee in a specially built balloon-lifted platform. The book - 180 pages, endearing, illustrated by its thirty-year old author - is enchanting; most intelligent children will have read it, and they will in consequence know Krakatoa as, at the very least, a place both dangerous and beautiful, and wondrously exotic.


Winchester then goes on to discuss the movie to avoid, unless you enjoy bad films: Krakatoa, East of Java, directed by Bernard Kowalski, who is also to blame responsible for Night of the Blood Beast and Attack of the Giant Leeches. (I've seen the leech film, and possibly the Blood Beast. I'm not entirely sure because I slept through it, which is sad seeing that it's the MST3K version.) Krakatoa was never east of Java by the way - it's to the west.


If you want a much more through plot description, here's a really lengthy one:


Wikipedia: The Twenty-One Balloons


The story reminded me a lot of Jules Verne, and I'm pretty sure the reader is meant to think that. It refers to Around the World in Eighty Days in the book itself - but it's attitudes toward exploration of unknown lands and fabulous adventure, not to mention balloons, are all hat-tips to Verne.


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review 2013-03-11 00:00
The Twenty-One Balloons - William Pène du Bois 3.5 stars

This was both entertaining and delightful to read. Very much along the lines of a Jules Verne novel with fantastical inventions and miraculous escapes from crashing balloons and exploding volcanoes.

I was especially fascinated by the community on the island and how they'd established a peaceful, industrious, fulfilling life on what had been a deserted island. The restaurant government was intriguing enough that I've found myself discussing it with several others and examining its real-life possibilities.

I had a hard time figuring out why this one was a Newberry winner at first. With the recent books, it's usually obvious why the winners were chosen, but often with the older books it's difficult to tell. I finally came to the conclusion that it may be because of Professor Sherman's final statement. When asked what he's going to do now, how he says he's going to sell his diamond cufflinks and build a second balloon to go try again, it shows wonderful perseverance and a determination to continue going after your goals even after setbacks.
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review 2012-10-05 00:00
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois, William Pene Du Bois (Illustrator)
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois, William Pene Du Bois (Illustrator) - William Pene Du Bois (Illustrator) by William Pene du Bois Re-read. I liked it as well the second time as I did the first, many years ago. It's light, frothy and fun, with lots of technical ballooning and geographical pieces stirred in. Some of these are obviously lectures, some are seamless parts of the narrative. I didn't warm to the people. And I wonder, idly, what else was in the running for the Newbery that year. ETA: I looked, and Miss Hickory is the only one of the Honor book from '47 I have read. ETA: Wendy commented that Miss Hickory won in 47, and this won in 48. So I looked again, and this book won over Misty of Chincoteague which just goes to show that I know nothing about how books are picked for the Newbery.
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review 2011-11-25 00:00
The Twenty-One Balloons
The Twenty-One Balloons - William Pène du Bois This book reminds me of a bad version of Pixar's Up.
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review 2010-07-14 00:00
The Twenty-One Balloons - William Pène du Bois This summer I decided to read three different Newbery titles. The first was The Giver by Lois Lowry. The second was The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois.Professor William Waterman Sherman has taught children for many years. He tires of it after several decades and takes up ballooning instead. One day he retires and sets sail around the world in a flying home with a giant hot air balloon attached to it. The plan is to be air born for a solid year... unfortunately, some seagulls alter that plan. Sherman has to set down on a small island in the Pacific. The island turns out to be Krakatoa, and inhabited. Sherman then enters into one of the strangest, and most blissful, periods he has ever known.The book was pretty good, albeit a little young for me to be gaga over. It's interesting that it's written by a French American author in 1940 - whatever (the award was given for 1947). The book is heavily steeped in socialist politics in a very positive light... and this is pre-communist 1950's red scare. Were this written a few years later would it be subject to the same kind of scrutiny that fueled that time of fear in our country? Would it have been politically overlooked for the award?Politics aside though, this book is very appealing for an action, survival novel. I described it today as a communist, desert island survival adventure manifesto novel for kids. I'm sticking to that. It was good, I should have read it 20 years ago. Today it warrants a 4 out of 5, but it's a damn good 4 out of 5 read.- review courtesy of www.bibliopunkk.net
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