Book Review: Balloons Over Broadway

One of the best nonfiction picturebooks I’ve seen! There are so many brilliant aspects to this book. With sparse text, Melissa Sweet xplains how Tony Sarg went from playing with marionettes as a child to designing the giant balloons that float over New York City annually on Thanksgiving. Sweet then uses design, collage, and watercolor illustrations to underscore what she writes. She shows readers that “every little movement has a meaning of its own” by manipulating the shape and size of the font she uses to write that statement with. She uses scrap paper, wood, wire, cloth, string, and buttons in her collage to invite the reader to feel as though they are tinkering and creating right along with Sarg. She uses silhouettes to emphasize when Sarg has a brilliant thought. She uses the height of the book when its turned horizontally to emphasize the height of the balloons. Her back matter verifies the information in her book, acknowledges those who helped her, and gives the reader a bit more information, such as that one of his apprentices was Jim Henson and that he responded to every letter he received. In other words, every aspect of his book was designed to give the reader a rich, aesthetic, and telling experience.

The only negative comment I can make about this book actually has to do with the online acitivity kit that accompanies it. The kit includes three different types of puppets to make (paddle, stick, and finger), a box to store the finger puppets in, a maze, a design-your-own-puppet sheet, and a picture of an elephant balloon that is to be turned into a hat. As an educator, I feel as though authors and publishers should design activities that will enhance or extend the reading experience. Most of the activities Sweet includes would be considered busy work in my classroom. For instance, the book is not about all types of puppets, it’s about marionettes. Why include paddle and finger puppets? I think the stick puppet is fine since it’s mentioned in the book, but I think she should also have included a marionette for readers to make. I found great directions for making a marionette here: This activity could be done one-on-one with a child in one sitting or with a whole class over a couple of days. I think the maze could be a good idea, because it echoes the route the parade uses. However, the start and finish of the maze are labeled “parade starts here” and “parade ends here”. I think it would have been more effective if the maze started in Harlem and ended on 34th street, like she says the real parade does. I also just don’t understand why there’s a hat.

Overall I recommend this book to everyone!

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet


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