A lighter-than-air answer to that eternal question: Where do balloons go? Chicago.
Specifically, they end up with Frank, Chicago’s Nocturnal City Collection Custodian, who travels around the Windy City with a bouquet of specialized tools to retrieve lost balloons. Poor Frank is overworked and dreams of eventual replacement by a robot that might liberate him to enjoy Chicago in the daytime. At least this is the story that Zeke tells his little brother, Theo, after Theo lets go of the string of his new green balloon. Theo is so taken by the story that Zeke writes a message to Frank on his orange balloon, and then the brothers let it go as well. Malenfant uses a deliberately childlike style to illustrate this sweet flight of fancy, which celebrates storytelling, the bond between siblings and the wonder of a serendipitous connection, all at the same time. The image of lonely, hardworking Frank sitting in a deserted dugout with a few stray balloons says it all. But appealing as Theo, Zeke and the perhaps-fictitious Frank are, it’s hard not to wonder whether yet another story that celebrates releasing balloons is the best thing we could be doing for the world, particularly as Theo’s killjoy mother delivers a story that is probably closer to the truth than Zeke’s: that balloons probably pop as the air pressure changes, resulting in balloon fragments on the ground.
Maybe it’s time for balloon stories to retire along with Frank. (Picture book. 4-8)