Winner Wednesday: Balloons Over Broadway


I love learning interesting stories about things I unthinkingly take for granted. Every year while cooking Thanksgiving dinner, like many others, my family watches the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We watch as balloon after balloon goes by, and while I have always loved the show, I never stopped to think about how the tradition was started. Enter the wonderful book Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet. Not only does this book tell a fascinating true story, it has also received numerous recognitions including the 2012 Sibert Medal, making it the perfect choice for the feature of this week’s “Winners Wednesday.”

Tony Sarg circa 1930 SOURCE: AP

Tony Sarg circa 1930 SOURCE: AP

The book tells the story of Ton Sarg who, at a young age, began collecting toys. This passion led to an interest in marionettes, and as an adult Tony became well known for his ability to create puppets with life-like movements. Macy’s approached him about creating a moving puppet holiday window display, and the windows were such a hit, that when Macy’s decided to hold a holiday parade, they asked Tony to help make it remarkable. The first parade in 1924 included floats, costumes, and live animals. As the parade grew, and more exotic animals were included, children began being frightened by the growling lions and tigers.

Early Versions of Sarg's Balloons

Early Versions of Sarg’s Balloons

Tony knew he could come up with a spectacular solution. Inspired by large blimps and an Indonesian rod puppet in his toy collection, Tony invented the first version of the now iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. The book follows Tony through a few more trial and error processes, and eventually he perfects his new creation.

The story behind the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of ingenuity, persistence and problem solving. It is a story that few people know, but once heard, it captures the imagination. Sweet’s writing style is engaging and very easy to read, making this book a wonderful introduction to the non-fiction genre. The book shows children the importance of creativity and never giving up. Readers see the numerous steps Tony takes to perfect his balloons, and this need for progression and trial-and-error is important for children to see.

IMG_0482 The Illustrations are real works of art. Sweet employs a multimedia technique when Tony is brainstorming ideas that is appropriate for the content and conveys the design process well.IMG_0481For the parade scenes, she employs more classic illustrations, but they are filled with such color and whimsy that they are anything but boring. One page requires readers to flip the book around to read the text and see the illustration of the balloon, and this technique creates a sense of height and floating that a more “normal” illustration would miss.IMG_0483

            This book offers wonderful new insight into a familiar American pastime. The material is engaging and interesting, and the illustrations are varied, bright, and fun to examine. This book is sure to be a hit anytime of the year!

Happy Reading!

Amanda Farenthold


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