Balloons over Broadway

Book Reviews

Sweet, Melissa Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade; written and illus. by Melissa Sweet. Houghton, 2011 [40p]
ISBN 978-0-547-19945-0 $16.99
Reviewed from galleys R 5-9 yrs

Sweet introduces her picture-book audience to just the kind of inventor kids would want to meet: Tony Sarg, the wizard behind the giant helium balloons that awe viewers of New York’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. His first effort for Macy’s department store was the design of mechanized puppets for their Christmas window, “Wondertown.” From there he moved on to orchestrating a parade for employees, which proved so popular that he devised oversized balloon figures operated on long sticks. As the parade audience swelled, the need for larger puppets became evident, and Sarg invented his signature helium behemoths, originally made of rubberized silk and manipulated by keepers who guided them along the streets (and under the elevated tracks!) on rope tethers. Sweet’s artwork is as joyous an affair as its subject—a confection of cartoon and collage and snippets of found print, with one glorious double-page spread in a vertical layout that demonstrates how the massive balloon dwarfs its costumed handlers. The text itself comes up a bit short on particulars of Sarg’s background and the timeframe for his accomplishments; closing notes, however, help fill this gap. Kids who can’t be there in person to revel in the aerial entertainment will be commandeering the remote for the TV broadcast. An author’s note, a bibliography, and source notes are included.  EB

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade.
Sweet, Melissa (author).  Illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
Oct. 2011. 40p. Houghton, hardcover, $16.99 (9780547199450). K-Grade 2. 791.5. REVIEW.  First published September 15, 2011 (Booklist).

This is a picture book about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but that’s on the macro level. There is also a wonderfully personal story here as Sweet introduces Tony Sarg, a boy who loved puppets and grew up to create them for one of the world’s most famous parades. As a kid, young Sarg was a master manipulator, making marionettes and inventing pulleys that could feed the chickens in his family’s coop. As an adult, he brought his marionettes to Broadway, where R. H. Macy saw them and asked Sarg to provide designs for his store’s windows and then, later, to create puppets for a holiday parade. Right from the start, in 1924, the Thanksgiving Day Parade was a success, and Sarg’s ideas became more expansive, literally, as he designed animals—part puppet, part balloon—that eventually became the fabulous creatures we know today. Through careful explanation and fantastic art, Sweet explains step-by-step how the balloons were shaped and evolved. The pictures, a mix of collage and watercolors, are as exciting as the parade itself and are presented in an innovative design that uses an array of typefaces, reproductions of old newspaper articles, silhouettes, and the occasional comic-strip format. The only thing that could have made this better is if Sweet had used her stand-out collage techniques for the balloon representations, instead of watercolor artwork. But that’s a quibble. What she has done is make a joyous piece of nonfiction that informs and delights in equal parts. — Ilene Cooper

Horn Book Magazine:
Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade
by Melissa Sweet; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate Houghton 40 pp.
11/11 978-0-547-19945-0 $16.99

At Macy’s department store, marionette maker Tony Sarg started inside and worked his way out. He designed mechanical storybook figures for Macy’s window displays before inventing the giant balloon characters that would become the signature feature of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sweet’s whimsical mixed-media collages, embellished with little dolls she made herself out of odds and ends, reinforce the theme that, for Sarg, work was play. He loved his job just as much as the cheering crowds loved his balloons (one of Sweet’s watercolor illustrations shows open-mouthed children fairly dancing with delight). Sweet runs through the various problems Sarg had to solve before his behemoths could fly: “He would have to make much larger puppets in order for them to be seen in the parade. And how could he make them strong enough to hold up in bad weather yet light enough to move up and down the streets?” (He hired a blimp manufacturer in Ohio to create his designs out of rubberized silk.) His biggest concern was that the balloons seem animated, that they move like puppets, so he came up with the idea to control them like marionettes, only with the control strings on the bottom instead of the top. Thus, thanks to Tony Sarg, SpongeBob soars. An author’s note and source list are appended. CHRISTINE M. HEPPERMANN

Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine [or Guide, as applicable] by permission of The Horn Book, Inc.,

School Library Journal:
 SWEET, Melissa. Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. illus. by author. unpaged. bibliog. CIP. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-19945-0. LC 2010044181.

K-Gr 3—Sweet tells the story of the puppeteer responsible for the creation of those now-famous gigantic balloons that are emblematic of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Even as a child, Tony Sarg was fascinated with movement, rigging ingenious contraptions that allowed him to feed the chickens early in the morning while remaining snug in his bed. He moved on to create fabulous marionettes that came to the attention of Macy’s, and he was invited to design their holiday window displays. In 1924, when the store decided to put on a parade to please their immigrant employees who missed their holiday traditions of music and dancing in the streets, Sarg designed costumes and floats. As the parade became increasingly popular and the streets more and more crowded, he realized he needed to design something that would be large enough and high enough to be seen by all, and the idea of the balloons was born. Sweet tells this slice of American history well, conveying both Sarg’s enthusiasm and joy in his work as well as the drama and excitement of the parade. Rich in detail, the gouache, collage, and mixed-media illustrations are a stand-out, capturing the charm of the period and the awe-inspiring balloons. This one should float off the shelves.—Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ



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