It's Day 21 of Picture Book Month and today I'm thinking about tradition. Picture books are a great way to bolster traditions and help celebrate new ones. As far as Thanksgiving goes, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade makes the holiday for a lot of people, myself among them. I remember sitting with my dad on the sofa watching the parade on TV, with the smell of turkey wafting through from the kitchen and the promise of family coming later in the day. Those Thanksgiving mornings are indelibly etched on my memory, and I know I'm not the only one who feels that way.
Sprout's never seen the Macy's Parade -- we don't have cable -- and so I wasn't sure if the pick for today would really speak to him. But I needn't have worried, because he loves parades. Who doesn't, really? The festivity, the color and music and pageantry of it all. When I took Melissa Sweet's Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade off the stack tonight, and told him it was about parades and balloons, that was all it took to pique his interest.
Sweet's book, which she wrote and illustrated and which has garnered a number of awards (including the Sibert Award, given for nonfiction), is many things. It's history and memoir, telling the story of puppeteer Tony Sarg and his quest to bring puppets to the Macy's Parade. It's inspiration, as we follow Tony's efforts, culminating in the unveiling of the amazing balloons that graced the Parade in 1928, and made balloons a centerpiece even of today's parades. And it's art, filled with incredible mixed-media illustrations that tell Tony's story and give even the most faraway readers a hint of the magic of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Balloons Over Broadway is a great example of some of the wonderful nonfiction available for kids, books that are impeccably researched and bursting with life. Teachers and parents who want to use this title to inspire art projects will find ample fodder for discussing invention and creation with kids; I can absolutely see this as a take-off for making puppets inspired by Tony's outstanding artwork (check out the author's website for loads of links related to this and her other titles).
For his part, Sprout was very intrigued by the notion of marionettes, which I realized that he'd never seen either, so we'll be hunting down an opportunity to watch some in action. And I wish I'd had a camera at the ready as we were reading the book the first time -- when I flipped to the page where Tony's first balloon takes flight over the street below, his jaw dropped wide open in complete amazement.
So as you watch the parade tomorrow, give a thought to Tony Sarg, whose vision and talented team of assistants brought the balloons to Broadway. Rest in peace, Mr. Sarg; our holidays are all the more magical because you were here.
Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet, published by Houghton Mifflin