A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday John Neufeld (Lisa, Bright and Dark).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Rosemary Sutcliff (1920â€“1992) Eagle of the Ninth.
- Happy birthday also to Alabama, which became the twenty-second state in 1819. Hence, itâ€™s Alabama Day. Read Alabama Moon by Watt Key.
- In 1911 Roald Amundsen, Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting become the first team to reach the South Pole. Read Race to the South Pole: The Antarctic Challenge, edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
On December 14, 1782, the Montgolfier brothersâ€™ first balloon lifted off on its first test flight. Later they would conduct public demonstrations, taking a thirty-three-foot diameter balloon aloft for about ten minutes. From this humble beginning, humans sailing the skies in a hot-air balloons became a possibility.
William Waterman Sherman, the protagonist of the Newbery Medal book The Twenty-One Balloons by William PĂ¨ne du Bois, has been teaching arithmetic to boys for forty years in San Francisco: â€śForty years of spitballs. Forty years of glue on my seat.â€ť So at the age of sixty-six, he retires, builds a hot-air balloon, and sets off to sail around the world.
But as he soon discovers, being airborne produces other problems besides spitballs. Seagulls start to eat on his balloon and create a huge hole. After he plummets into the sea, he finds shelter on an island beach. This is not just any island, but the remarkable island of Krakatoa, built on the wealth of massive diamond mines. The island seems like paradise: the residences have constructed amazing homes, each one organized around the architecture of a different county, and filled them with conveniences. Their beds, for instance, have sheets that mechanically change every day and get washed, dried, and pressed. After a life of service, the professor might well have lived a life of luxury. But as is always true, timing is everythingâ€”because he has landed three days before a volcano erupts on the island of Krakatoa. Science, invention, fantasy, science fiction, and action all come together in a book that moves from one amazing plot detail to another.
Childrenâ€™s books change lives. When another great teacher, Dr. Jerry J. Mallett took his first course in childrenâ€™s literature, he read The Twenty-One Balloons and became enchanted with PĂ¨ne du Boisâ€™s pencil illustrations for the book. This led him to other picture books, and he began purchasing illustrations from those books. Today the Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books in Findlay, Ohio, contains this early collection as well as thousands of other pieces added over the years. As Dr. Mallett says in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Childrenâ€™s Book, â€śit is never too late to have your life changed by a childrenâ€™s book.â€ť
So if you want to read a ripping- good story, pick up The Twenty-One Balloons. Even if it doesnâ€™t change your life, it will certainly keep you engaged with its humor and panache.
I shook my head and opened my eyes again. There was a man kneeling over me. As I sat up he stood up. He was handing me some clothes, and he was dressed in a most unusual manner. This man wasnâ€™t a native, and didnâ€™t suggest an explorer or a traveler. He looked like an overdressed aristocrat, sort of a misplace boulevardier, lost on this seemingly desolate volcanic island. He was wearing a correctly tailored white morning suitâ€”if you can imagine such a suitâ€”with pin-stripe pants, white ascot tie, and white cork bowler. The suit he was urging me to put on was just the same as the one he had on, only my size.
â€śAm I dead?â€ť I asked. â€śIs this Heaven?â€ť
â€śNo, my good man,â€ť he answered. â€śThis isnâ€™t Heaven. This is the Pacific Island of Krakatoa.â€ť
Originally posted December 14, 2010. Updated for .