The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen

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This is, by no means, a new book but if you haven’t read it you should. Published in 1989, The Blue Balloon – a timeless classic -is a book from my childhood that continually astounded me each time I opened it. Now the copy on my shelf is wrinkled, slightly torn, a little dog eared. I poured over this book countless times because it was, and still is, captivating. Inkpen creates a magically fictitious story in which the reader is engaged in the reality of a child’s imagination. Beginning the day after a birthday party – generally not the highlight of a child’s year – the delightful story posits the beginning of something amazing,

“At first I thought it was just an ordinary balloon. But now I am not so sure.”

Our unnamed protagonist finds a balloon the day after his birthday. At first, he thinks it is an ordinary balloon and does what children do with ordinary balloons, he sticks it on the ceiling, makes rude noises with it, etc… But our adventurous hero and his exuberant canine companion – Kipper – soon realize this balloon is far from ordinary, it is indestructible and can expand to unimaginable sizes. The blue balloon even takes the characters on a quick outer space journey, returning them safely home for tea; unavoidably reminiscent of Max, king of the Wild Things, who comes home from his adventure to find his supper still hot.

The book is interactive on both a textual level and physically: as the balloon grows and changes the reader is invited to open and unfold flaps; the book literally expands alongside the balloon. The illustrations themselves are simplistic yet thorough, much like the text. The imaginative nature of the book leaves blank space, room for the reader’s participatory imagination to fill in the blanks. Some pages are filled with a single image while other pages hold a series of images or actions. This is a small book – even for picture book size, that contains adventure, exploration, and the potential for more.

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