Prather's Pick: Fun book more than hot air

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— This week's picture book for children has a little bit of everything, including some history, vivid color, action and humor. It bears the seal of the Caldecott Honor for illustration.

The book, a combination of history and fiction, is based on one aspect of aviation - the hot-air balloon. According to notes at the book's end, two Frenchmen, the Montgolfier brothers, are credited with the invention of the hot-air balloon.

On Sept. 19, 1783, the brothers tested one of their balloons - with some passengers, too. The balloon was fifty- seven feet high and forty-one feet in diameter and weighed 1,596 pounds. The basket and its passengers weighed an additional 900 pounds. The author says this information is historical record.

But just what happened during the flight? Nobody knows for sure. That's the fiction part of this book.

"Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride" was written and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman.

The book begins on Sept. 19, 1783. The place is the palace at Versailles in France. Thousands of people (also dogs cats, and birds) look on as Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier get their balloon ready for take off. Among the spectators are King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and American ambassador Benjamin Franklin.

What a splendid sight it is! Red and gold trim sets off the balloon's royal blue color. The passengers - a rooster, duck, and sheep - aren't seen at first. They're hunkered down in the basket. The animals are scared, and who can blame them?

The balloon floats off into the sky, and from this point on, the story is told almost completely by the illustrations.

The only words are animal sounds (including a "mmmoooooo" from the rooster when the balloon passes over a herd of black and white cattle).

Eventually the animals sit up and look around. Then they seem to be enjoying the ride. The animals' facial expressions tell all.

And then the balloon floats over a town, and a sudden wind rocks the basket. Some laundry gets sucked off a clothesline and flies upward and into the basket. The rooster looks quite comical wearing a pair of green ruffled pantaloons over his tail.

A boy sitting on a rooftop takes up his bow and aims for the basket. The arrow bends as it hits the bottom of the basket, but not to worry. No harm is done, and the arrow comes in handy later on.

Lots more excitement is in store for the three animals.

They come dangerously close to a sharp point on a tower and are attacked by a bunch of birds. Finally their balloon is punctured.

This is a fun book!

"A Brief History of Montgolfiers' Balloon" is found on the inside covers of the back of the book.

Priceman also received a Caldecott Honor in 1996 for "Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin" by Lloyd Moss.

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