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by Jean Van Leeuwen & illustrated by Marco Ventura

Age Range: 7 - 10

Pub Date: March 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-8037-2258-3
Publisher: Putnam

Based on a true story, Van Leeuwen’s (Lucy Was There . . . , 2002, etc.) latest effort imagines the experience of 13-year-old Edward Warren, the sole passenger aboard America’s first manned hot-air balloon, launched in 1784, a year after the Montgolfier brothers flew their balloon in France. A newspaper account of the journey is printed on the endpapers. It provides the basic facts; Van Leeuwen fills in the rest. In her account the orphaned boy is a blacksmith’s apprentice. For months, tavern owner Peter Carnes tests his balloons not far from Edward’s shop. When Edward reads of Mr. Carnes’s intention to exhibit the balloon in Baltimore he longs to attend. He’s asked to join the crew just one day before the exhibition. Van Leeuwen, of course, takes creative liberty, but her account is solidly based on fact and embellished with details that reflect 18th-century reality. Similarly, Ventura’s illustrations, rendered in oil and neatly framed throughout, accurately portray the early American landscape. His depiction of period clothing and tall ships in the Baltimore bay is especially engaging. So is Van Leeuwen’s hopeful message: “If Mr. Carnes [can] build an air balloon, if I [can] ride in one,” Edward muses as he rises into the sky, “anything [is] possible.” In an author’s note, Van Leeuwen provides a historical perspective. “Nothing is known about Edward Warren except his name and age,” she begins. “After his brief moment in the historical spotlight, he disappeared from sight.” Van Leeuwen brings him brilliantly back to life. (Historical fiction. 7-10)