my red balloon + red balloons in children’s books

14738335My 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.

my-red-balloon-one(Click image(s ) to enlarge)

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.


Most iconic? The one from the French film (then book) of the same name. Who wouldn’t be entranced by a bright red balloon with a spirit of its own amidst all that gray?






My other favorites? 


This lovely cover and one spread inside of Where You Came From by Sara O’Leary, illustrations by Julie Morstad.


“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.”



This one I’m adding to the post after the fact because Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes pointed it out. Thanks Travis!

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!


17072249p.s. I’ve blogged about balloons once before here on This Picture Book Life. Check out Please Bring Balloons + Balloons!










25 Responses to my red balloon + red balloons in children’s books

  1. love love love LOVE! that first one just became my new go-to toddler gift book!

  2. Sara O'Leary says:

    It occurs to me looking at that now that my text never specified that the balloon that the baby Henry arrives on in Where You Came From is red, so that was Julie’s interpretation of the text. Except that, of course, in my head it was totally a red balloon! Thanks so much for this, Danielle. Lovely as always!

  3. scopenotes says:

    A Sick Day for Amos McGee!

  4. Sara O'Leary says:

    Oh no, it does say red. What tricks the memory plays!

  5. Oh, there’s so much hushed and whispered poetry in those illustrations! I sooo need this book!

    Another red balloon reference: Isol’s El Globo / The Balloon (not sure if there’s an English edition). A screaming mother turns into a nice and quiet red balloon which her daughter then takes for a walk in the park (won’t spoil the ending, though – but it’s no wonder it didn’t get republished in Argentina – sometimes publishers can be so shortminded…)

    I remember you wrote a post on her work a while ago.

    Reading you from Buenos Aires – always a pleasure!

  6. Sara O'Leary says:

    Oh, there’s a red balloon in Good Night Moon as well. I knew there was one tickling at the edge of my memory.

  7. There’s a red balloon in the shape of a hamster head in Ten Minutes to Bedtime by Peggy Rathman. It starts out attached to the baby hamster’s stroller. My son loooooooved that book. Still does, even though he’s now 11. I think that balloon also floats away at one point in the book, and I think one of the other hamsters captures it and returns it to the baby.

  8. Peggy’s last name is spelled with two ens. I should know better since I always have to remind people that there are two ens in my last name. 😀

  9. Maria Oka says:

    Oh, this looks so fabulous. Thank you for sharing! Just discovered your blog and I am loving it.

  10. This post keeps niggling at my brain, because I got stuck thinking about the brilliant Khan/Blackall BIG RED LOLLIPOP. I’m utterly failing to connect balloons and pops. 😉

  11. Bonnie Eng says:

    Ahh, love the theme in this one. It’s unassuming yet profound. 🙂 I love the balloons in the Disney film “Up.” They aren’t only red, but I think they give off the same feeling of charm and whimsy. 🙂

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