Once Upon a Balloon (2013), by Brie Gailbraith (Illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant)

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 19.1.

Once Upon a Balloon

Illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant

Gailbraith-BalloonNo one can explain the world better than a beloved sibling. At least, that’s Theo’s view of his world. When he loses his balloon, his father’s flippant explanation that it had gone to the moon does not satisfy; nor does his mother’s more scientific explanation that it would pop when it reached a higher altitude. When Theo’s brother Zeke begins to explain, his childish imagination tells a story that Theo can believe—or at least is happier believing, because after all, “Zeke knew everything about everything, so he knew everything about Frank.”

Frank, Zeke tells Theo, lives in Chicago, collecting all the balloons that find their way there… Zeke’s story is both elaborate in the way children love—balloons, strange tools, robots, and an imaginative plan to get a message to lonely Frank. On the final page, the narrative slips from imagination into reality, as Frank receives his balloon message and, “happy because finally one of the balloons was for him… tinkered until his robot was no longer a dream.”

Galbraith’s Zeke tells the story in a voice so like a real older sibling that readers will be captivated and believe, as Theo does, that the lost balloon is in a happy place. This theme is slightly reminiscent of Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing, but for much younger readers. Malenfant’s illustrations, too, have a Tanesque quality in the foreground images, but layered over soft, swirling backgrounds that bestow a dream quality on Zeke’s imaginative tale. Between the story and the illustrations, functioning so perfectly together, Once Upon a Balloon is a magical story that leaves young readers with a sense of security and contentment… despite the lost balloon.

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