Hello everybody! This is the first of a new series I am going to do for my reviews. For each post I am going to read two books with similar pub. circumstances and themes and then review them side-by-side. Today I’m reviewing The Twenty One Balloons by William Pene du Bois and Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater. Both were written at around the same time, Popper’s Penguins in the 1930s and Balloons in the 1940s, and both were awarded a Newberry. Both were children’s books (I’m pretty sure they could be classified as middle grade) focusing on themes of exploration and defying other people’s expectations.
Balloons is about a man who sets off to spend a year in a balloon, and is found only three weeks later with twenty balloons. The story tells about how this came to be. Conversely, Popper’s Penguins centers around a bored house-painter who acquires penguins. Both are supposed to be tales of adventure and fun, and could probably be considered modern children’s classics by some people.
Both stories focus on imagination, but neither really make much logical sense. This is probably because they were written for kids, but the lack of sense, especially in Popper’s Penguins seems more like talking down to kids rather than making stories accessible to them. That book was so simple that I had to double check that it was for the middle grade category. I wouldn’t really recommend it for anyone beyond fourth (mayyyybe fifth) grade.
In Balloons, the writing is less simplified, but the actual events are very simple. At one point, the main character is living on a Pacific island with 80 other white people (not even going to go there because there is no doubt that had the others been native islanders they would have been portrayed with much racism). Each family is a mirror of each other: they all have an inventive man of the house, a housewife, an assertive and inventive son, and a somewhat-less inventive-but-still-inventive and demure daughter. Each family has the same job and an equal share of the wealth of the island, and the society is portrayed as utopia. This is interesting as well, especially since the book was written in 1947 during the Red Scare in the United States. To think that a children’s book supporting communism was written and published and even won a Newberry during the Cold War!
In this book the inventions described are interesting, and could be very interesting for kids, but the uniformity of everyone shown in the book kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
Both books do have very nice, well-drawn illustrations and reading them could make the right kid very happy. But I wouldn’t really recommend either for adults who want an interesting and inventive story.
Also, there are certainly many better (in my opinion) imaginative books for kids, many of which can be better enjoyed by people of all ages.
I rated both books 3/5 stars.