My Red Balloon by Kazuaki Yamada (2014).
This is a picture book to sit with. It seems simple, but there’s something profound about it. A girl with a red balloon boards a yellow bus. The bus stops for a bear (at a bear-shaped bus sign). And the balloon blows away.
The bus driver follows the balloon but always stops for any animal waiting for a ride along the way. Rabbit, penguin, elephant, and finally, giraffe (who happens to have a crow on her back).
Just when the bus full of creatures is upon the elusive red ballon, here comes the crow with its sharp beak. And POP. No more balloon.
It’s never totally clear who is speaking in this book, but I get the sense it’s often that kind bus driver. At the end, I imagine he’s the one who says, “Cheer up…Look up in the sky!”
Everyone looks to the sun, a giant fiery balloon setting in the sky.
“And we’ll see it again tomorrow.”
That moment with the sun, the other red balloon that never blows away or pops, that moment is breathtaking. And here’s where the profound part comes in. The whole journey, going after that red balloon, led the girl and her animal crew to the red balloon sun. The thing that will be constant every day, the thing that marks every day’s journey. The thing we can’t chase after but will never disappoint.
Yeah, I love this book for that idea.
But also for the expressions on the characters’ faces. The heart-shaped trees. The way each spread could be a perfect painting for a child’s room: colorful, complete, yet mysterious.
Thanks to Minedition for images!
As iconic as that yellow school bus or animals in children’s books is that red balloon.
My other favorites?
“Your father saw a red balloon appear, far off in the sky.
And at the end of the string, there you were, holding on for dear life.”
A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (2010).
Any red balloon references I’ve missed? Please share in the comments!
p.s. I’ve blogged about balloons once before here on This Picture Book Life. Check out Please Bring Balloons + Balloons!