Friday, November 18, 2011

Balloons Over Broadway

When my daughter was growing up, we lived a hop, skip, and a jump from the Museum of Natural History. That was great just in itself, but it also meant that every Thanksgiving we were at the starting point for the Macy's parade. My daughter was less than a week old when I bundled her up and took her to the parade. She spent the entire time gazing at my face, but still I felt like a real parent for the first time. As she grew, we usually skipped the parade. It was soooo crowded that we watched it on TV. But we still had our traditions. On Wednesday night we'd go to the museum grounds, where workers would be blowing up the balloons for the big day. It was fun to wander up and down the streets and see our favorites as they filled with helium and magically came to life. Of course, eventually word got out and that too became soooo crowded.

Balloons Over Broadway takes me back to those days. This amazing picture book tells the story of how Tony Sarg, a puppeteer, came to invent the gigantic balloons that are the hallmark of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Like many icons, the balloons just always seemed to exist, so kudos to Melissa Sweet for unearthing how they developed from blimp-like rubber balloons carried on wooden sticks to the soaring helium-filled wonders of today.

Melissa Sweet, a Caldecott Honor winner, obviously threw herself into this book. The artwork, a combination of watercolor illustrations and collages made from found objects, fabrics, and handmade puppets, exude the creativity and love of play that Sarg devoted his life to. In an authors note, Sweet tells us that she "played with all sorts of materials, not knowing exactly what the outcome would be." The end result shows that it was time well spent.

The book concludes with additional info about Tony Sarg, as well as a bibliography. The back end papers feature a 1933 advertisement from the New York Times, touting the upcoming parade. Among the "helium filled monsters" is one I would give anything to see: "The Colicky Kid: Listen to him squall!! He's mad. He's bad. He yowls bloody murder!"

And head on over to Sweet's website to view her Balloons Over Broadway activity kit. It has fun templates of puppets for kids (or anybody) to make.

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade
by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin, 40 pages
Published: November 2011


  1. Thanks for an informative review, the links, and for sharing your memories!

  2. I can't wait to get my hands on this book! I love visiting New York and the parade is so iconic. (I can understand that the crowds would be a major bummer, but I'm a little jealous that you actually lived close enough to watch the preaparations for the Macy's Parade in person!)