On The Rise: Hot Air Balloon Books About Soaring Flights And Sobering Falls
From romantic transits over the French countryside to a historical account of an ill-fated polar expedition, the sky is the limit in these extraordinary tales.
Who needs destinations? This summer, we're focusing on the journey. All these books — some old, some new — will transport you: by train, plane, car, bike, boat, foot, city transit, horse, balloon, rocket ship, time machine and even the odd giant peach. Bon voyage! (Taxes and fees not included).
The Fantastic Mr. Wani
In this fast-paced picture book homage to slapstick comedy movies of long ago, Mr. Wani is a crocodile in a hurry. He's on his way to a party in town, but the obstacles keep piling up. He can't run very fast on his little legs. He trips and lands on some very forgiving mice, who suggest he try floating to the party using some convenient balloons. When that fails owing to Mrs. Crow's inability to tell the difference between balloons and lollipops, Mr. Wani becomes a crocodile sled, carrying three penguins at top speed down a snowy hill until they all lose control. There's a run-in with an elephant and a line of prickly hedgehogs, but in the end, he makes it to the party. Too bad he didn't bring the tortoise and the snail, who show up long after the festivities have ended. (For ages 4 and up)
-- Mara Alpert, children's librarian, Los Angeles Public Library
The Borrowers Aloft
Borrowers are people "no bigger than a pencil" who "borrow" things — like matchsticks to make fences — to survive. A family of Borrowers called The Clocks has relocated to a doll house-size village built by a retired railroad man. Kindly Mr. Pott and his wife keep the Borrowers a secret from prying eyes. However, Mr. and Mrs. Platter, who have a rival miniature village, have other ideas. They kidnap the Borrowers and lock them in an attic — determined to build a house under glass and imprison the family for all to see. Alarmed, young Arrietty Clock convinces her father that they must build a hot air balloon to escape — or face a lifetime of misery. No matter what your size, you're sure to relish the excitement and enchantment of Mary Norton's classic tale. (For ages 8 and up)
-- Lisa Yee, author, most recently of Warp Speed
The Twenty-One Balloons
On Aug. 15, 1883, Professor William Waterman Sherman sets out from San Francisco, intending to cross the Pacific Ocean in a hot air balloon of his own design. Three weeks later, he is found, half-starved and exhausted, amid the wreckage of 20 hot air balloons in the Atlantic Ocean. As newspaper headlines blare "PROFESSOR SHERMAN IN WRONG OCEAN WITH TOO MANY BALLOONS," Sherman refuses to explain how or why he came to be there, determined that the fellow members of San Francisco's Western American Explorers Club will be the first to hear his tale of "extraordinary adventure." The resulting story, featuring caves with walls of solid diamond, a secret tropical utopia with a government based completely on the exchange of gourmet meals, and a daring escape from the catastrophic explosion of the volcanic island of Krakatau, is hilarious, captivating and sure to leave readers longing for a hot air balloon of their own. (For ages 8 to 12)
-- Margaret H. Willison, book critic
Still reeling from the unexpected death of his parents, Neil Franklin finds himself suddenly a Lord, destitute, and unable to support his sister Nora. His estranged uncle Gerard offers to help, but his price is steep: Neil must abandon his studies, hand over his precious family grimoire as collateral, and accept a meagre teaching position at Highfell Hall, a charity school Gerard runs. One of several aether-powered schools floating high above the city of Herrow, Highfell Hall is both less and more than it seems. Neil must quickly learn to navigate a mess of class differences and greedy intrigues in order to protect his pupils from powerful people who would do them harm — all while confronting his unexpected feelings for Leofa, the ship's wry, inscrutable care-taker. A gripping homage to sensation fiction, this is a thrilling and deftly written debut that seamlessly mixes romance and adventure; easily among the most enjoyable steampunk novels I've read.
-- Amal El-Mohtar, book critic and author of The Honey Month
The Ice Balloon
This is the book that made me realize why I don't particularly need literary fiction. Which seems like an odd recommendation, until you delve into Alec Wilkinson's spare, gorgeous, horrifying account of the 19th century polar exploration craze and realize he has as much to say about human nature as any guy from Brooklyn. The story centers on Swedish explorer S.A. Andrée, who got it into his head that a balloon (in this case hydrogen, rather than hot air) would be the ideal way to survey the North Pole in speed and late-Victorian comfort. Andrée appears to have been a man who never let circumstances change his opinions, and "nothing that interested him was beyond his ability to have an opinion about it." Needless to say, things don't end well for Andrée and his crew; but Wilkinson situates their doomed quest beautifully in an era of explorers who sought the sublime, the sacred and the terrifying in the icy, dark-starred Arctic wastes.
-- Petra Mayer, editor, NPR Books
The Wicked Deeds Of Daniel Mackenzie
Jennifer Ashley continues her popular Mackenzie series with Daniel, who is intrigued by and wildly attracted to Violet, a sham clairvoyant. Overreacting to his curiosity regarding her business, Violet flees England, and Daniel pursues her. Despite her spiritualist cover, Violet is a hardened realist, barely surviving her hand-to-mouth existence, and she knows better than to trust anyone in the upper crust of society — especially a wickedly handsome young aristocrat who has the world at his feet and an unshakeable faith that life is his friend. Daniel's touching pursuit of prickly Violet includes many twists, but it's only when he takes her on a glorious hot air balloon ride over the French countryside — reawakening her sense of childlike wonder and offering her the first hint that his buoyant personality is nonetheless trustworthy — that we begin to believe Daniel can win her over.
-- Bobbi Dumas, book critic
Freddy And The Perilous Adventure
Among children's authors whose work proves genuinely entertaining to adults, it's hard to beat Walter R. Brooks. His Renaissance pig, Freddy, tries his hand — well, his trotter — at detective work, politics, newspaper publishing and countless other avocations. Here, Freddy becomes an accidental aerialist when a hot air balloon malfunctions and carries him (along with two duck co-pilots) on a flight across upstate New York. Brooks' tale features a meticulously detailed account of a balloon ride, complete with the sensations, the dangers and even the contents of a well-stocked picnic basket. Along the way, Freddy encounters a helpful eagle, some precocious circus animals and a crowd of parachuting mice. Though cute, these animals are also unfailingly scrappy — no Charlotte's Web angst here. Brooks' writing is dense with double meanings for grown-ups (he wrote for The New Yorker) and provides engaging snapshots of rural America in the '30s and '40s. (For ages 9 to 12)
-- Etelka Lehoczky, comics critic