The first helium-filled creatures to bob through Manhattan on Thanksgiving morning were brought to being by master puppeteer Tony Sarg in the 1920s. Now master illustrator Melissa Sweet, a prolific artist and winner of a Caldecott Honor for A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, has created an effervescent picture book biography about the man who believed work and play should mix. In Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, Sweet shows young readers how Sarg’s early penchant for inventiveness — as a boy he figured out a way to feed the chickens without leaving his bed — carried through to his eventual career as a marionette artist, designing window displays for Macy’s. Sweet also channels Sarg in the book’s whimsical collage artwork, which includes puppets and toys she made herself from household scraps. Is being an illustrator really as much fun as it looks?
Melissa Sweet: Growing up, my family always watched the parade on TV and it was a big part of our holiday. Tony Sarg’s life is intimately entwined with the balloons, so the parade was the perfect vehicle to tell his story. Though all the details of the balloons — from their construction to how they’re selected for the parade — are fascinating, it was Sarg who led me down parade path.
Three more new picture book biographies feature another visionary puppeteer, a world-renowned clown, and a young lighthouse keeper who would later be dubbed the “Bravest Woman in America.”
Jim Henson‘s imaginative early life served as the foundation for his later creative efforts, a connection author Kathleen Krull and illustrators Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher bring to light in Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets. Krull’s straightforward text highlights key events and includes anecdotes to round out Henson’s inspirational life story. Colorful full-page and vignette paintings capture the vitality in Henson’s work. This celebration of Henson is a timely way to mark the late artist’s seventy-fifth birthday. (5–8 years)
Listen up, middle-gradersBy Martha V. ParravanoFour topnotch audiobooks provide hours of entertainment for middle-grade listeners.In Geraldine McCaughrean’s Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen, when a diphtheria epidemic hits 1890s Olive Town, Oklahoma, twelve-year-old Cissy and her friends are sent away to stay with their former, beloved teacher, now an actress in a traveling theater troupe housed in a dilapidated steamboat. As the company travels down the flooded Missouri River, adventures ensue — and keep on ensuing — in a book that’s both a paean to Mark Twain and entirely original. Narrator Lorna Raver is a fluid and accomplished reader, more than a match for the story’s tall-tale tone, fast pace, and large cast of colorful characters. (9–12 years)
Page-turners for older readersBy Katie BircherFrom comedy to ghost story, from a modern-day historical reenactment village to a future New York, these new middle-grade and YA novels range wildly in genre and setting. What do these books have in common? Readers won’t be able to put them down before the last gripping page.The first book in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, The Name of the Star is an eerie, absorbing mystery. Louisiana high-school senior Rory arrives in London amidst a series of gruesome murders precisely following Jack the Ripper’s modus operandi. After a near-death experience and sightings of people her boarding school classmates can’t see, Rory falls in with an underground group investigating a possible paranormal explanation for the murders. (12 years and up)
Holiday High Notes By Horn Book staffMay your days be merry and bright…and may you enjoy our selection of new holiday books, with reviews written by the Horn Book staff. The Story of Hanukkah
by David A. Adler; illus. by Jill Weber
Primary Holiday 32 pp.
8/11 978-0-8234-2295-1 $14.95
Adler’s straightforward, accessible retelling of the Hanukkah story begins in Judea at the temple “on top of a mountain and called the House of God…inside was a ner tamid, a light that always burned.” The violence against and oppression of Jews following King Antiochus IV’s coronation is detailed, along with triumphant revolt by the Maccabees. The narrative concludes with rebuilding of the temple — and the great miracle that happened there — along with modern-day observances of events; a recipe for latkes and instructions for the dreidel game are appended. Acrylic illustrations richly accented with deep blues and luminous golds recall ancient friezes and ceramics. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ
FROM THE EDITOR
In the November/December 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine five writers — Marc Aronson, Carmen Agra Deedy, Malinda Lo, Susan Patron, and Rita Williams-Garcia — honor the spirit of the Thanksgiving season by sharing with us the books for which each one is grateful. Susan Patron warmed my children’s librarian heart when, remembering an incident in her childhood, she wrote “everything on the fiction shelves looked too hard, but then the librarian offered me My Father’s Dragon.” Such recommendations are a gift to both giver and receiver (and when done in the context of a library loan, amazingly economical). The receiver gets a new world to explore; the giver gains a fellow explorer. Everybody’s richer.Roger Sutton