Title: The Twenty-One Balloons
Author: William Pene du Bois
Major Themes: Science Fiction, Volcanoes, Hot Air Balloons,Transportation
Synopsis: How did William Waterman Sherman end up in the Atlantic Ocean with 20 balloons after leaving San Francisco with 1?
Wherever we happen to live in the world, I believe everyone enjoys a tall tale once in a while. The Twenty-One Balloons is one of those beautiful, almost believable, fascinating, fantastical books that draws you in quickly, then sweeps you off on an amazing adventure.
Professor William Waterman Sherman is tired of unruly students, and after forty years of teaching is ready to take a break. The best vacation he can imagine is to fly away in a balloon, and let the winds take him wherever they will. After custom-building the perfect balloon, he takes off.
By some fate, perhaps, Professor Sherman is not destined to be completely out of the way of other fellow humans. Only seven days into his trip, he meets disaster—and plummets into the ocean. He finds himself thrown up on the beach—later revealed to be the island of Krakatoa—and soon resting at the full mercy of those who live there.
What he finds, upon recovering from his ordeal, is a distinct, highly civilized group of families—all rich, all with peculiar notions, and all owning and running apparently successful restaurants. Even more odd than their clothing, way of living, and governmental system, however, is their highly developed inventions. Can he ever hope to fit into one of the strangest civilizations on earth? And when the mountain under their feet begins to rumble, will they have any chance of getting to safety?
The Twenty-One Balloons is a very entertaining book. I loved hearing and reading it as a child, mostly because of William Pene du Bois’ great handle on speech and imagination. For a child, Professor William Waterman Sherman’s story is a daydream come true. One thing this story got me interested in was the island of Krakatoa, and how volcanic islands—and volcanoes—work. Even though this story has little educational worth, it would be a wonderful, fun addition to the study of volcanoes. My brothers love this story, and I think your children will, too.
We’ve read The Twenty-One Balloons several times. I think I read it aloud three different times, and when one of my boys needed to pick a book for oral reading practice a couple of weeks ago, this was his pick (and he’s 14!). I enjoyed it as much this time as the first time, I believe.
The Twenty-One Balloons is really pure nonsense. The narrator, Professor William Waterman Sherman, after being picked up in the Atlantic Ocean amidst the wreckage of 20 balloons, tells his story to the Western American Explorer’s Club in San Francisco. He had departed from San Francisco 40 days before in one balloon, heading west across the Pacific Ocean—how in the world did he end up in the Atlantic Ocean with 20 balloons? The story he tells is quite entertaining—and you can even make it educational if you follow his journey on a globe! This story has sparked interest in the eruption of Krakatoa in our house, although keep in mind that this is pure fiction. It’s fun, though!
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, 10 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 7 – 9, 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15