Summary-The Twenty-One Balloons
In the book by William Pene du Bois, a retirement age teacher has no bigger wish than to travel the world in his hot air balloon all alone, and away from the rotten children he has taught for years. He makes plans and prepares to travel around the world for one year. He sets off and everything is going splendidly until a bird comes into his balloon and changes everything. The bird drives his balloon to the earth and he washes up on the shores of Krakatoa. His experiences will keep the pages turning and you'll wish, like I do, that they would adapt this for a movie!
*Edit* I actually also found this link to someone who has bought the rights to make it into a movie. I hope they get it going!
The Twenty One Balloons struck me as such an outstanding book that I not only recommend it to people-adults and kids- but I also did a book trailer on this. You can watch it here. The creativity of the story and the fact that it is easily accessible/readable for students still makes it really appealing.
Reading to Know review
I first heard about The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois from Amy at Hope is in the Word who mentioned that her girls were eager to listen to this audio book but then were scared by the volcano in the story. She mentioned that it was the winner of a Newberry Medal in 1948 and I figured it sounded like a fun adventure story to tuck away and read with our boys when they are older.
Almost immediately after she talked about it, I came across a copy and picked it up. Flipping through the illustrations, Bookworm1 noticed that there was a shark in the story and expressed an interest in reading it together. I obliged and we started reading The Twenty-One Balloons together. However, I ended up finishing it alone. The vocabulary was just too far above his head at this time and I could tell he was having a difficult time connecting to the story. I didn't want to ruin his impression of the story and so suggested we move on to something else at this time. As planned, I'll set it aside to read with our boys later because it is a fun (and intriguing) adventure story!
The idea is this:
Professor William Waterman Sherman decides to leave San Francisco in a hot-air balloon, travel across the Pacific Ocean and basically be alone for several years. He has grown weary of his teaching career and just wants to escape life and view the earth from above. He builds an elaborate hot-air balloon and loads it with plenty of supplies for his extravagant journey. What he forgot to factor in though was menacing seagulls who might, just perhaps, pop his balloon. Professor Sherman ends up finding himself on a rather remarkable island that the rest of the world believes is uninhabitable due to a volcano which resides on the island and can potentially wreck quite a bit of havoc. Sherman is shocked to discover that there is a colony on this island, comprised of many families. They are housing a great secret among them and live a rather intriguing lifestyle.
This book is actually open to being spoiled so I'm going to exercise a bit of caution and end my description of the book right there.
Suffice it to say, I found this book to be a really fun adventure story for boys in particular. (Not saying that girls would be unable to enjoy this book, just saying it's a great one for the guys!) The Islanders have a rather unique worldview that can come across as rather legalistic and cult-like in certain respects, making this an interesting adult read as well.
Apparently du Bois' publisher noted a resemblance between this story and a a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald entitled "A Diamond as Big as the Ritz." Our author of The Twenty-One Balloons had to acknowledge a similarity between the two tales, but stated that it certainly was not intentional. Given the fact that Fitzgerald's book was intended to be more of a parable for adults and du Bois story was for children, some differences can be drawn between the two. I found that interesting, given the thought-process that The Twenty-One Balloons causes an adult reader to go through. I've not read Fitzgerald's story but now I'm definitely curious about it.
Apart from the worldview which begs for discussion, to a younger reader this book would be all about imagination and the wonders of science.
The Twenty-One Balloons, written by William Pene du Bois, won the Newberry Medal in 1947. The story begins when Professor Sherman, who teaches high-school, becomes bored with his life and sets off on a journey in a hot air balloon called The Globe. He hopes the wind will blow him and his balloon all around the world. To his surprise, he instead has a crash landing on the mysterious island of Krakatoa, an island full of diamond mines and enormous wealth.
On the island dwells a society of twenty families who were brought together by a shipwrecked sailor. Each family owns a restaurant of different types of foreign foods and all members of the island eat together at a different house each night. Krakatoa is a volcanic island, and the families are aware of the danger that the volcano could erupt at any moment. Their escape plan consists of a platform made of balloons. Mr. F, one of the island dwellers, finds Professor Sherman on the island and takes him in.
The secret society of Krakatoa is based on values of greediness for wealth and inactivity. They believe their lives are perfect because they never have to worry about money. They live empty and unfulfilling lives and must learn the value of relationships, education and their own lives. They must learn how having extreme excess of money, or anything, is worthless. The book is full of drawings that help make complicated inventions and ideas clearer.
The Twenty-One Balloons would be really fun to use as a read aloud book with 2-4th grade students. It would be a great book for talking about geography. A discussion about the location of Krakatoa and how islands are formed by volcanoes would be a good tie in to the lesson as well. It would be really easy to align several lessons to this book.
The Giver was an outstanding book, as well. We meet Jonas who is about to turn 12 and participate in the Ceremony of Twelve where he learns what his profession and role will be in his society. His society, to most, appears as very Utopian when in reality, it is Dystopian. There are people that deal with the negative aspects of life to keep everyone calm and participating in the idea of Utopia. When Jonas learn his job, he learns how his community really is and unfortunately has to decide whether to rock their foundation or assimilate and bear his burden of knowing.
I have really wanted to read this book for quite some time, but never got around to it. It was not by any means disappointing! Jonas and the Giver are well developed characters that make you want them to fight for the freedom and the memories of their society. The regimented system of life and death they have is almost heartbreaking. To put a newborn child down because it was a twin is just wrong, in my opinion, and I think that's what really makes the reader think about how they would react if they were Jonas.
In a radical departure from her realistic fiction and comic chronicles of Anastasia, Lowry creates a chilling, tightly controlled future society where all controversy, pain, and choice have been expunged, each childhood year has its privileges and responsibilities, and family members are selected for compatibility. As Jonas approaches the ``Ceremony of Twelve,'' he wonders what his adult ``Assignment'' will be. Father, a ``Nurturer,'' cares for ``newchildren''; Mother works in the ``Department of Justice''; but Jonas's admitted talents suggest no particular calling. In the event, he is named ``Receiver,'' to replace an Elder with a unique function: holding the community's memories--painful, troubling, or prone to lead (like love) to disorder; the Elder (``The Giver'') now begins to transfer these memories to Jonas. The process is deeply disturbing; for the first time, Jonas learns about ordinary things like color, the sun, snow, and mountains, as well as love, war, and death: the ceremony known as ``release'' is revealed to be murder. Horrified, Jonas plots escape to ``Elsewhere,'' a step he believes will return the memories to all the people, but his timing is upset by a decision to release a newchild he has come to love. Ill-equipped, Jonas sets out with the baby on a desperate journey whose enigmatic conclusion resonates with allegory: Jonas may be a Christ figure, but the contrasts here with Christian symbols are also intriguing. Wrought with admirable skill--the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel. (Fiction. 12+)
I would recommend using this book with junior high students and discussing societal roles. Comparing our society to the society in the book initially and then discussing how the Utopian society would work. I would then discuss why this is not an example of a Utopian society. It could be used for discussion in either English classes or in history classes since class systems have long been the cause of revolution and dissent.
If you haven't read either of these books, I highly recommend reading them! They are outstanding!
Bois, W. P. (1947). The Twenty-One Balloons. New York: Puffin Books.
Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Ransohoff, K. (2011). The Twenty-One Balloons Review. Palo Alto: PAMF.
Unknown. (1993). The Giver Review. New York: Kirkus Reviews.
Carrie. (2011, April 29). The Twenty-One Balloons. Retrieved March 16, 2011, from Reading to Know: http://www.readingtoknow.com/2011/04/twenty-one-balloons-by-william-pene-du.html