In this debut children’s picture book, the loss of a favorite balloon convinces a little boy that his job is to prepare other kids for similar disappointments.In Eyton’s offbeat tale, 4-year-old Athelstan receives his favorite birthday present: a balloon emblazoned with his name and the number 4. “It was big and purple with sparkles, and it had a giant elastic instead of a string, so that he could bounce it against his hand over and over again.” Athelstan goes to bed, but when he wakes up the next morning, he learns that his balloon is no more, as it developed a leak overnight. His parents try to explain why his balloon is gone, but Athelstan doesn’t understand. Finally, Dad ends the conversation by saying, “Balloons are all doomed. It’s just part of life.” For the next three years, the sight of balloons makes Athelstan sad, and he feels compelled to prepare other kids for the inevitable, because, he says, “there were a thousand ways a balloon could die”: They could float away up in the sky, for example, or big kids could steal them and let the helium out. And so, Eyton writes, with witty melancholy, “The balloonless years of Athelstan went by.” But the author also has an overarching message to convey in this appealing little slice-of-life tale, and he offers it with an appropriately light touch: A little boy acknowledges Athelstan’s earnest, well-meant warning about a balloon’s ephemeral nature by expressing his simple appreciation for the pleasure that a balloon brings him in the here and now. Mundt’s watercolor-and-ink illustrations, with their goofy characters and attention to understated detail, complement the story’s quirky approach.
With gentle wit, this engaging picture book takes an original look at the value of appreciating what is rather than what might be.