My Yellow Balloon by Tiffany Papageorge, illustrated by Erwin Madrid
Published by: Minoan Moon
Release date: October 2014
From the publisher:
Honest, unflinching, and ultimately reassuring, My Yellow Balloon ™ will resonate with anyone who has endured the darkness of grief, while offering hope for brighter days ahead.
This week, I had a conversation with two others regarding books that deal with loss.
It’s a subject I have some personal experience with. A year and a half ago, my then almost 4yo lost her grandmother. As we often do, we turned to books as part of our grieving process and as a gateway to child-led conversation.
There are books about loss. Many, in fact. We read several of them. And yet of all the ones I weeded through, and of the ones that we read, there was only one that I really felt I would recommend.
I can now add a second book to that list.
This duo knows their stuff. Tiffany Papageorge comes from a theater background, as well as work with CBS and Disney. Erwin Madrid has worked for both Dreamworks, and in the video game industry.
The text is pretty straightforward. A young boy receives a balloon at a carnival from a balloon handler that is on the surface a kind old man, but the adult reader gets the impression that perhaps the gentleman is a bit something more, as he selects a ballon specifically for Joey, without looking and without pause. It is, of course, the perfect balloon for the child. Joey and his balloon then do everything together, and the balloon stands watch over the boy while he sleeps.
And then the balloon slips away.
Joey felt angry.
Joey felt confused.
Joey felt sad.
It seems that heavy feeling of sadness will be his new normal. Until, slowly, color comes figuratively (and, as beautifully demonstrated by the illustrations, literally) back into his life.
The ending is predictable, perhaps bordering on cliched. It’s a challenge to do a loss book that doesn’t have a predictable pattern. Joy, loss, grief, renewal. You WANT that pattern, to let the child know that the emotions, all of them, are real and normal. And that, at some point, the sadness eases. In a world where the picture book trend is “less is more,” My Yellow Balloon is unique in its longer word count.
But y’all, the illustrations. Madrid’s exquisite use of color and light, of saturation and lines, take the reader on an emotional journey even without the text. The story appears to be set in an earlier time period, giving it a classic feel. The illustrations begin bright and bold, moving to sepia-toned and shadowed as Joey enters a period of grief, then slowly warming again over time. Dramatic? Yes. But effective. And there is a foldout spread in the middle that is both beautiful and heart-wrenching.
Nobody wants to read the stories about loss, especially to young children. But it’s good to know, when the situation does arise, there are books out there.
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