Book Review- Balloons Over Broadway

Beautiful picture book to use with biography and Thanksgiving via Wonder Teacher I have a book to share with you and I love it so much I can’t wait until the “proper season.” It’s called Balloons over Broadway, written and illustrated by the wonderful Melissa Sweet. The story is about Tony Sarg, the man who is the creative father of the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade. (This sort of puts it in a “Thanksgiving” category except not really because it’s just as much about creativity and puppetry and artistic problem-solving and general inspiration!) There are so many reasons to build some teaching time around this book! 1) The story is inspiring and teaches children about perseverance, hard work, and the value of creative thinking. 2) Sarg’s life story is effectively communicated through many different techniques. Of course, the text is central. In that sense, it’s an excellent example of biographic writing. However, that’s just the beginning. Each page is rich with images and text that help communicate the message of the book to the reader.* You’ll find maps, photos, diagrams, handmade toys, journal pages, and even an original advertisement from the New York Times for the 1933 parade. Page spread from Balloons Over Broadway 3) The images! If you are looking for a book that will inspire your children’s art-making and help them understand how images tell a story, this is a great one! Sweet uses so many artistic storytelling techniques- zooming in and out, letting objects go off the page to show their size, using a variety of media, etc. There are dozens of things to “notice” on every page! *Regarding the message of the book; I know what I think it is but I don’t want to tell. Read it and decide for yourself. Obviously, the main “author’s purpose” is that Melissa Sweet wants the world to know about the amazing Tony Sarg and the part he played in establishing a beloved American Thanksgiving tradition. However, I believe there is another message too. Why not ask your students what they think it might be? What might be another propose for creating this book? Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty. How can you engage your students in the kind of creative storytelling exemplified by Ms. Sweet? Here is an idea: Ask each student to create their own image-rich biography. This could be a BIG, COOL project. What if you let students select someone who (in their estimation) has made an important or valuable impact on America/ the world? It might be a famous person such as a writer, athlete, politician, etc. Anyone would work as long as the student can articulate the positive impact that person has made. (In other words- let’s weed out shallow pop figures.) Researching the person’s life would be a next step but it would be research with an artistic twist. You could tell the kids that they need to be thinking about how they can tell a compelling story using words and images. So, they will need to collect images as they research such as photos, maps, newspaper articles, etc. These images would be integrated with artwork of their own to communicate information effectively. I think this could be such an amazing project! Of course, you’d have to publish and celebrate. It could be as simple as reading the finished books to children in a younger grade or as big as a publishing party for parents. Either way, remember that an impending audience is a powerful motivator! I have one more fun idea to go with this book, but I want to get the help of my friend (and professional puppeteer) Becky Becker before I post it. Can you guess what it is? 😉 Finally, be aware that Sweet has written and/or illustrated several other biographies that would be great to share with your students:

river of words

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams


a splash of red A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin 


the boy who drew birds The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon

      brave girl Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909


rebel in a dress adventurers Rebel in a Dress: Adventurers

rebel in a dress cowgirls Rebel in a Dress: Cowgirls

the right word The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

I feel a book-buying urge coming on! (I’ve read several of these and they are magnificent.) PS- There is a brief interview with Melissa Sweet on the Reading Today website. Worth checking out. Also, if you visit the Amazon page for this book, you will find some insightful little notes and images on Sweet’s creative process. I always love to share glimpses into an author’s mind with my students. It inspires them!

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  1. Carol Cook says:

    This book looks fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas. The creative biography project would be so intriguing for students!

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