Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Open Sesame

The debut of Hilltown Families newest column, "Open Sesame" by Cheli Mennella, reviews "Balloons Over Broadway," a children's picture book that takes a look at the history behind the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Open Sesame’s debut review is a hot-off-the-presses picture book about an extraordinary artist and a Thanksgiving Day parade. Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, tells the story of Tony Sarg, the genius behind the upside down puppets of Macy’s annual parade.

Sarg, a self-taught puppeteer, artist, and inventor, was fascinated by movement from the time he was a boy. Indeed the story opens with Sarg’s own words: “Every little movement has a meaning of its own.” Beneath his hand, marionettes would come to life, moving like real people and animals. Sarg brought his marionettes to New York City, where it didn’t take long for people to notice his special gift, including R.H. Macy’s department store. In 1923, Macy’s asked Sarg to create their holiday window display. He invented  mechanical puppets that paraded all day, enchanting passerby.

Then, in 1924, Macy’s hired Sarg to help with their very first Thanksgiving Day parade.  The parade was a huge success, and Macy’s decided to have one every year. They asked Sarg to think of something extraordinary for the parade. Sarg rose to the occasion, designing large rubber puppets filled with air and mounted on sticks.

But Sarg realized his puppets were hard to see from the ground, where crowds swelled along the sidewalks. In a brilliant stroke of creative genius, Sarg decided to make upside down marionettes, which would float above the crowd and be worked by puppeteers on the ground. And on Thanksgiving Day, 1928, his helium-filled balloon puppets rose into the air, high above the crowds, and paraded down the streets of New York City, where Sarg-inspired balloons still rise every year.

Caldecott Honor winning illustrator, Melissa Sweet captures Sarg’s playful spirit in her mix of watercolor illustrations and mixed media collages. The pictures provide a visual feast, full of wonderful details for children to savor and discover. Even the end papers are something to pour over. Sweet uses simple language to interweave story and pictures, with words sometimes leaping in and becoming part of the illustration itself. This makes for a story full of whimsy that will appeal to even the youngest reader. Children will connect right away with Tony, and delight in his ingenuous way of getting out of chores when he was a boy. Adults will find interest in this slice of history and enjoy the way Melissa Sweet tells it. A detailed author’s note and bibliography at the end adds to the experience.

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet. Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011. – ISBN 978-0-547-19945-0


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

One Comment on “Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade

  1. This is so fascinating. In the course of writing fiction about the parade, I’ve been doing some homework on it. It’s so interesting to see how the parade history is represented and celebrated. Thanks for posting this.

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