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Review: “The Twenty-One Balloons”

Well, we’re back to raiding my husband’s book collection. This week, I stumbled upon The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois. Despite the book having won the Newberry medal, I never read it as a child. So, I had to see what was up!

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois

I must admit, without the sweet sentimentality of a childhood memory to connect me to this book, I felt a bit distant from it. I could easily see all the cultural aspects that would make the book potentially unpublishable today. (See: the simplistic representation of the Indian tribe with no name. Although, I do love that the tribe takes one look at the balloon-covered cupola and knows exactly what the white San Fransicans did wrong.) Perhaps my unease came from the driving plot instead of deep characterization. There’s something very endearing about the Professor’s adventurous spirit and the Krakatoans creativity, but I didn’t quite connect to them personally.

I also felt like I was missing a major point while reading the book. I couldn’t quite tell if du Bois was pro or anti capitalism. For instance, the Krakatoans start out greedy and trying to outdo one another for money, but in the end, the money all evens out because of mutual need. So, I suppose du Bois showed an example of capitalism’s best case scenario, at least until the island blew up. Additionally, the professor didn’t really change at all. He had seen more of the world and learned a great deal of scientific inventions, but his character stayed the same. He started a solitary adventurer and ended a solitary adventurer. Without the professor changing, I do not know what du Bois wanted me to learn.

Faith in Utopia

The Twenty-One Balloons is, admittedly, a charming little book. The academic tone and clear descriptions lend an element of humor to the book. I certainly don’t see any harm in anyone reading it. Without deep characterization and a moral, though, I have a harder time finding faith in The Twenty-One Balloons. I suppose the book points out the creativity of man and the beauty of God’s creation. We see how important it is to work together in order to survive as the Krakatoans do. Ultimately, God can be found in The Twenty-One Balloons as He can be found everywhere. We just may have to look a little harder to find it.


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