A Voyage in the Clouds

This week’s Perfect Picture Book takes us up in the air and back in time.

img_1248Title: A Voyage in the Clouds, the (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785
Written by: Matthew Olshan
Illustrated by: Sophie Blackall
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016
Historical fiction, 40 pp.
Suitable for ages: 4-8
Lexile: AD570
Themes/topics: aviation, hot air balloons, cooperation, perseverance

“Our big day at last!” cried Dr. Jeffries, leaping from the bed. He flung open the shutters and lifted his dog, Henry, to the window. “Isn’t the view across the English Channel splendid? See that smudge on the horizon? It’s France. The sky is fair. The air is frosty. The wind is undecided. It looks like a fine day to fly from England to France!”

Brief synopsis: (from barnesandnoble.com)
In the year and a half since the flight of the first manned balloon in 1783, an Italian has flown, a Scot has flown, a woman has flown, even a sheep has flown. But no one has flown from one country to another. John Jeffries, an Englishman, and his pilot, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a Frenchman, want to be the first. On January 7, 1785, they set out to cross the English Channel to France in a balloon. All seemed to be going fine, until Jeffries decides the balloon looks too fat and adjusts the air valve—how hard could it be? Too bad he drops the wrench over the side of the aerial car. With no way to adjust the valve, the balloon begins to sink. Jeffries and Blanchard throw as much as they can overboard—until there is nothing left, not even their clothes. Luckily, they come up with a clever (and surprising) solution that saves the day.

Activities and Resources:
Writing: Write about a time something went wrong for you. Use a plot diagram to shape your story.
Character: Complete a character map for each of the men. Compare and contrast the two characters.
(Many variations of these two graphic organizers are available on the internet.)

Why I like this book:
My local critique group recommended this book, saying it was so “me.” I had to agree. It was encouraging to see a fun historical text with intermittent speech bubbles and commentary. I, too, seem to hear these voices when I write.
Adults as well as children can identify with the obstinacy of the characters and their ongoing feud throughout the adventure. Each of the men is determined to be the hero, but their lack of cooperation puts them in a dangerous situation. Forced to cooperate, they cast pride to the wind and make history.
The tone of the story is delightful and the illustrations playful. What a great way to get a little history and science in the midst of an entertaining tale!

Visit author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books for a plethora of picture books listed by title and topic/theme, each with teacher/parent resources.

6 thoughts on “A Voyage in the Clouds

  1. I know the situation of the two men is dire as the balloon is sinking lower and lower, but the line in which they threw everything overboard, including their clothes, had me snickering. I can see this is a must read book. Your enthusiasm for it shows in this review. I also love your writing activity. I wrote it down and will see what I can come up with this weekend.

    It’s always nice when critique partners recognize the writing style of a memeber and recommend books based on it. You must have a great group.

    Liked by 1 person

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