balloon5Emily’s Balloon
Written and illustrated by Komako Sakai
Published by Chronicle Books, 2006 (Reissued 2015)

My five year old daughter loves balloons. She loves them. She plays with them, speaks to them, and occasionally names them. She’s sad when they deflate over time, as the inevitably do. She loves balloons.

Emily loves balloons, too. After being given a beautiful bright yellow one at the opening of Emily’s Balloon, she brings it home and has great plans in store, but things take a turn for the worse and Emily is left remembering what could have been.

At a time where it feels like so many books are released with an eye toward a possible series with toys and other licensing opportunities built in, Emily’s Balloon exists as though from a completely different era. (It was first published in Japan in 2003, but we’re talking about a much earlier era, here, by quite a few decades.) This is a simple work, and while it would be easy to tag it as a throwback, it’s really more reminiscent or evocative than throwback. It’s not the least bit cutesy, thankfully, but rather sweet and charming; it’s not whimsical but it is meditative and ruminant.

emily's balloonKomako Sakai’s text is spare and easy, with no distinction between the description and dialogue, which adds to the timeless feeling of her book. She captures brief glimpses into the mind of a child, with jumps in logic which will surely be familiar to any parents of young children; after the balloon gets away from her, she sits down to dinner, but “Emily missed the balloon. Dinner didn’t taste good without it.”

The illustrations are gorgeous, with a palette of muted earth tones, and one consistent dot of vibrant yellow throughout. As in the text, Sakai’s pictures are eternal, simple and devoid of flash.

Strangely, the simplicity of Emily’s Balloon is both its strongest asset and its greatest hurdle. It’s wonderful, easy and familiar, and you will smile when you read it (so will your little one, as this is a joy out loud), but it may not jump out on a book shelf filled with flashy pigeons, ballerina piggies and striking crayons… It just doesn’t have the voice for it. But, undoubtedly, when you do find it there and read it at bedtime, it will feel like visiting with an old friend… One with whom you’re unsure why you don’t hang out all the time.

Highly recommended.

-J.H. requested and received a copy of Emily’s Balloon in exchange for an honest review. Read about our review policy HERE.

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