Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air  Balloon Ride Book Poster Image
Pretty, silly tale of balloon flight by animals.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's nothing to worry about here. The animals in the hot air balloon face some difficulties -- they get tangled up in clothesline, shot at by a boy with a bow and arrow, and bump into a church steeple, nearly falling out -- but in the end, they are unscathed.

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What's the story?

In 1783, thousands gather at the palace at Versailles to see the world's first hot-air balloon flight. The passengers in the basket? A duck, a sheep, and a rooster. All of this is historical fact.

After this introduction, Marjorie Priceman, in a nearly wordless section, goes on to imagine what that flight might have been like for the animals, had they been possessed of near-human intelligence and emotions, and a talent for pratfalls. They soar over France, getting tangled up in clotheslines, shot at by a boy with a bow and arrow, bumping into a church steeple, nearly falling out, getting flooded and attacked by birds, and finally crash-landing safely. It concludes with a brief timeline of the year leading up to the real event.

Is it any good?

This unique book begins and ends with historical information, and in the middle is a silly, wordless picture book that anthropomorphizes the slapstick antics of the three animal heroes. It's easy to see why it won a Caldecott honor: It is gorgeously illustrated in detailed pen, ink, and watercolor paintings filled with clever and humorous details that reward close inspection. For instance, in some panels the clouds in the background take on interesting shapes, while elements in earlier pictures, such as an arrow and a bird, come to play prominent parts in later ones.

The text, what there is of it, is straightforward, with humorous touches. All together it makes for an entertaining, if somewhat schizophrenic, tale.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about flying in a balloon. What would it feel like? How would the animals feel? How must it have seemed to people in the 1700s, before any human had ever flown? Older kids may be interested in finding out more about the Montgolfiers.

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