11.03.2011

Parade City: Balloons Over Broadway


Thanksgiving books tend to be set on turkey farms, Pilgrim homesteads or around well-laid tables in suburban homes. I should know, I went through every Thanksgiving book at the Brooklyn Public Library.

This year, I am pleased to report there is a new Thanksgiving-themed book set in the city, and I am especially pleased to report it is written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

For anyone who has ever watched (or will watch) the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, Sweet's Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade is essential reading. While the familiar larger-than-life balloons are now emblematic of the parade, this was not always so. Sweet's book gives us the low-down on Tony Sarg ("rhymes with aargh!"), the inventor of these upside-down marionettes.

The story starts when Sarg was six years old and began his inventing career figuring out a way to automatically open the family's chicken coop from his bedroom window. Apparently, for this feat his father rewarded him by saying he never had to do another chore. Ever. Perhaps it was all the free time left on his hands that led him to tinker around with marionettes. As an adult, Sarg moved first to London and then on to New York, where he got his start decorating windows at Macy's. In 1924 when the parade takes off, Sarg began by designing costumes and floats. Sweet devotes the majority of the book detailing Sarg's development of the helium balloons now used in the parade. Of course we know he was successful, but Sweet does an excellent job of making Sarg's journey interesting and suspenseful.

If you are familiar with Sweet's illustrative style you are probably already a fan, but you should know she has really outdone herself here. Combining collage, drawings, vintage ephemera and puppets she made herself (some based on Sarg's drawings!), Sweet has created a feast for the eyes. The city backdrop is essential to the story and I was pleased to see that she did not forget about period details like the El train. Somehow she has made the city buildings seem like a small town which has the appropriate effect of making the balloons seem even more gigantic. An especially nice touch were the spectators hanging out of their windows watching the parade. (That's some prime real estate, people!)

The end pages include a newspaper clipping from 1933 in which I was delighted to see the same blue elephant whose fate I had enjoyed following throughout the book. It was also amusing to find out that Santa Claus used to be pulled in a dog sled drawn by 11 huskies! An author's note on Sarg and the parade's history completes the book.

Only 21 more days until the parade! There's still plenty of time left to pick up a copy of this book. You're sure to enjoy it.

Want More?
Read a thorough review at Abby the Librarian.
Visit the author's website -- she has crafts to go with her books.
Read Millie and the Thanksgiving Parade (reviewed here at Storied Cities) or Gracias, A Thanksgiving Turkey (also reviewed here), for more Thanksgiving in the City fun.
Visit the Macy's Parade Website, which includes a history of each parade and features Sweet's artwork.

Thanks to the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, for kindly providing me with a review copy.

3 comments:

Susan @ learning ALL the time!! said...

Thanks so much for this suggestion...the book looks like one we'd like. I managed to place a hold on it through our library system, even though it is brand new. Don't know how long it will take for me to get to read a copy of it, but I am excited to see it :)

Raising a Happy Child said...

Ooh, sounds interesting! I am going to add it to our Thanksgiving reading too!

Jackie H. said...

I love the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade! (Well, watching it on TV). This book sounds fantastic. thanks for sharing.

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