Balloons Over Broadway and Melissa Sweet

Friday, February 12, 2021


Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet and A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011 & Knopf, 2013

Genre: Children's Picture Book

Format: owned and library 

I first encountered Melissa Sweet while digging through Caldecott books during one of my grad school literature classes. She uses watercolor, gouache, and mixed media to create collage art for picture books. Her art gives the impression of a photo album, providing a comprehensive peek into the details of the page.

Did you know Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade began as a store display in a department store window and eventually grew into an employee celebration Macys held for employees--many immigrants--who missed their families during the holidays? The first parades were designed by a man named Tony Sarg in the 1920s. In his story, Balloons Over Broadway, Sweet illustrates the story of this time in Sarg's life with newspaper clippings, diagrams of a humpty dumpty marionette balloon, multiframe pages that capture the colorful cast of parade balloons, and even maps of the Upper West Side. 

You can check out some of Horace Pippin's art via the Philadelphia Museum of Art's exhibit.  I'm sorry to say I might not have explored his work without running into Bryant and Sweet's picture book. The story begins with Horace as a child enraptured with art. The biography follows him throughout his life, following his experience in war and recovery after. Mann didn't paint his first oil painting until after his 40th birthday, but has been celebrated since as a master folk artist who used art as a way to chronicle and cope with his experiences. 


"Every movement has a meaning of its own." --Balloons quoting Tony Sarg

"If a man knows nothing but hard times, he will paint them, for he must be true to himself . . ." --Splash


Is there anything sweeter than toddler storytime each night? I never get too old for quality picture books. I'd say these books are probably perfect for third or fourth graders, though I've seen some recommend Sweet for second graders. It depends on your group's attention span. What I love about these books is they illustrate the power of following a passion through celebrating someone's life experience. Poorly composed picture books tend to moralize and offer a preachy lesson at the end. These books offer insight it took Mann and Sarg a lifetime to earn. 

The illustrations really do give the impression that the reader has happened upon the character's personal scrapbook. 

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