This embellished tale is loosely based on a true event: the first international balloon flight, from England to France, in 1785.
Pierre Blanchard, a Frenchman with design and flight experience, makes the crossing with his English financial backer, Dr. John Jeffries. The two don’t get along well, and their invented squabbling drives much of the dialogue-heavy narrative. Their historical flight suffers a near miss during its two-hour, 47–minute crossing. For dramatic flair, Olshan invents Blanchard’s “little nap” and Jeffries’ bungled attempt to relieve pressure in the balloon. With the balloon losing elevation, the men shed sandbags, the winglike oars, rudder, anchor, violin, and most of their clothing. They even pee over the sides. (That’s apparently a documented fact). The near-sinking engenders a shift, with the two men cooperative and mutually congratulatory, as they disembark—in their underdrawers and clutching their respective pet dogs—to cheering crowds. Blackall’s signature watercolors, featuring pale, pink-cheeked, white figures, stylized period clothing, and pastel backgrounds, alternate with inked comics-styled panels conjuring such events as the precipitous near-sinking and the balloon’s tree-snagged landing. The men’s disagreeable carping, which preoccupies much of the story, ultimately diminishes its child appeal.
Subtitle notwithstanding, crafted more to amuse than edify. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)