John Jeffries and his pilot, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, wanted to be the first people to fly from one country to another and set out on January 7, 1785, to cross the English Channel to France. All seemed to be going fine until Blanchard took a nap and Jeffries decided the balloon looked so fat it might burst. He took it, upon himself to open the valve to release some gas without waking Blanchard. Too bad he dropped the wrench over the side of the aerial car, and now, with no way to readjust the valve, the balloon began to sink. Jeffries and Blanchard threw as much as they could overboard...until there was nothing left, not even their clothes. Luckily they came up with a clever (and surprising) solution that made just enough of a difference to save the day.
The baroque ornamentation and carefully lettered speech balloons of Blackall s spreads recall the work of George Cruikshank; like him, she has a gift for revealing that people dressed in petticoats and tricorne hats are just as human as the rest of us. With humor that s never snarky, Olshan reminds readers that, sometimes, the challenge adventurers must overcome is not the elements; it s their own vanity. Publishers Weekly, starred review Blackall s witty illustrations which include full-page art and double-page spreads in color along with occasional black-and-white comic-panel strips; word balloons; and florid ornamentation feel plucked from the time period. An author s note directs readers to Dr. Jeffries s firsthand account of the flight and reveals that portions of the book rely on Olshan and Blackall s creative adaptation of factual events. The Horn Book, starred review The illustrations vary from traditional to graphic novel-style at points, using panels and dialogue balloons. Olshan establishes suspense as the two encounter problems and danger during their voyage, and children will want to keep reading and learning more about this historic trip. An author s note discusses the true details incorporated in the story and explains the creative license taken....A delightful tale that will captivate elementary students with comedy, suspense, and beautiful illustrations. School Library Journal, starred review Here s a story ripe for booktalking: a pair of bickering, cheating, dissembling adults set off from England in a hydrogen balloon and land in France in their underwear. Olshan tosses in some speculation to enliven a tale that really requires little additional embellishment, but those basic facts hold up. . .The muted colors and teardrop-shaped speech bubbles of the illustrations suggest eighteenth-century satirical cartoons, and they re as droll as Olshan s text, capturing the seriocomic perils that forced the squabbling frenemies to pull in harness together. No references are included, but an endnote on the facts and fictions herein is entertaining and useful, making this a delightful sequel to Hot Air (BCCB 7/05), Marjorie Priceman s (Mostly) True picture-book chronicle of the Montgolfiers flight in 1783. The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books, starred review Rarely has a story of a historic first been so silly. Olshan and Blackall together tell the somewhat fictionalized tale of American (then English) Dr. John Jeffries and French Jean-Pierre Blanchard s first international journey by balloon. . .Blackall s signature watercolor illustrations, in a vintage palette and full of old-fashioned details, amp up the levity with humorous comic strips showcasing the balloonists over-the-top arguments, and depictions of the dogs anguished reactions to their owners egos. Booklist"
Matthew Olshan is author of the critically acclaimed picture book The Mighty Lalouche, also illustrated by Sophie Blackall, as well as the adult novel Marshlands. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Sophie Blackall is the author and/or illustrator of many acclaimed picture books, including The Baby Tree, and the adult book Missed Connections. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.