Hot Air:

The (Mostly) True Story of the 1st Hot-Air Balloon Ride

by Marjorie Priceman


Marjorie Priceman's Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the 1st Hot-Air Balloon Ride

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 3-8


The first balloon ride, from the animal passengers' point of view

Technically, you could call Marjorie Priceman's Hot Air, a Caldecott Honor book, a piece of historical fiction.

You have a real life event - the 1783 launch of the Montgolfier brothers balloon from the Palace of Versailles - told from the point of view of three key participants...

A duck. A rooster. A sheep.

As you might imagine, their prose is limited, save for the odd "quack," "baaa," and "cock-a-doodle-doo." But wordlessness is what makes this picture book fun.

Priceman starts by providing us context. The launch, after all, was a genuine and grand event. Louis XVI was there, with Marie Antoinette. Our Ben Franklin as well. It took place at a genuine palace.

But author-illustrator Priceman focuses on the unknowable, the experience of "ballooning's first brave passengers," after the launch.

The animals, after all, were not in contact with "Ground Control." They did not blog, post to Facebook, or "tweet." (Just "quack" and "cock-a-doodle-doo." Remember?)

Bearing some resemblance to the dazed creatures of Click, Clack, Moo, our chosen heroes ascend into the atmosphere, and the book goes properly speechless as the animals (unnamed) get used to their new surroundings.

Priceman does absurdity well, and your kids will be able to track the creatures' emotions, as fear gives way to wonder, which gives way - naturally - to predicament.

A balloon, after all, is a fragile and directionless thing, and the animals soon encounter threats from wind, errant arrows, steeples, and sharp-beaked birds. Review continues.

animals flying in a balloon

(How the basket comes to be filled with water on a rainless day, though, that you'll have to read to find out.)

Your kids will be pleased to know that the real-life animals landed unharmed, as do the ones in the book. And when the adventure is over, Priceman treats us to two pages of real history about the Montgolfiers' balloons.

(They didn't even know it was hot air that lifted their craft. They thought it was smoke!)

Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride strikes an interesting contrast. The historical context and facts are presented with some rather advanced verbiage, while the animals' story is presented in simple, wordless fashion. Share it with older and younger children, then give it to the oldest to curl up with and absorb while you open up the next picture book for the youngest.

More Caldecott reviews.

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