The Western American Explorer’s Club, in the city of San Francisco, was honored as it had never been honored before in the first week of October 1883 by being promised to be first to hear the details of an unexplained, extraordinary adventure; the biggest news story of the year, the story the whole world was waiting impatiently to hear — the tale of Professor William Waterman Sherman’s singular voyage. Professor Sherman had left San Francisco Auigust 15. He flew off in a giant balloon, telling reporters that he hoped to be the first man to fly across the Pacific Ocean. Three weeks later he was picked up in the Atlantic Ocean, half starved and exhausted, clinging to the debris of twenty deflated balloons. How he found himself in the Atlantic with so many balloons after starting out over the Pacific with one, caught and baffled the imagination of the world.
Professor Sherman, a retired math teacher, has planned to spend a year removed from the irritations of society and dullness of ordinary life, drifting about in a giant hot-air balloon at the whim of the winds. He’s outfitted himself with great care, purchasing elegantly lightweight furnishings, a library of paperback books, food, a shark fishing rod.
In very short order, however, Sherman’s been found in extremely poor condition, fished out of the sea by a ship’s captain. Up to now, he’s refused to divulge the slightest hint of his story. Now, San Franciso is pulling out all the stops to welcome him and hear what will be the strangest tale you can imagine.
A pesky seagull sabotaged his journey, he says, and by chance he was shipwrecked upon the island of Krakatoa. There he was welcomed by an extraordinary group of citizens with a fabulous secret. An immense diamond mine on Krakatoa has enabled these folks to finance a utopian society — a city of marvelous homes, each with a unique, international flair, equipped with fantastic conveniences; a stunning system of gourmet restaurants, allowing the citizens to feast daily with little effort on each one’s part; an exciting amusement park designed by the island childen.
The key to their success is control over these diamonds. Therefore, Mr. Sherman is sequestered in the community lest he blab about them to the outside world upon his return.
Extreme danger haunts this tiny civilization, however, for Krakatoa rests on a simmering volcano. What will happen to the islanders, their beloved community, and Professor Sherman, should the volcano blow?
William Pène Du Bois won the Newbery Medal in 1948 for this exceptional fantasy. Spectacular adventure, an incredibly curious world, and the steady, sophisticated narrative of Professor Sherman combine to create a thrilling, strangely-believable story. Perfect for reading aloud to ages 7 and up, or for stong readers to tackle on their own. It’s a perennial favorite.
Du Bois’ technical, elegant pencil drawings greatly enhance the story with glimpses of the amazing Krakatoan contraptions, as well as the posh, Victorian clothing, and the tropical setting of the story.
Really, this is one of those stories no one should grow up without reading.
Here’s the Amazon link: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois, William Pene Du Bois (Illustrator)