The Twenty-One Balloons

by William Pene du Bois

Paperback, 1995



Local notes

PB duB


Scholastic (1995), Paperback, 179 pages


Relates the incredible adventures of Professor William Waterman Sherman who in 1883 sets off in a balloon across the Pacific, survives the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa, and is eventually picked up in the Atlantic.


Original publication date


Physical description

179 p.; 7.4 inches


0590569252 / 9780590569255

User reviews

LibraryThing member Othemts
This children’s novel tells of the adventures of Professor William Waterman Sherman, a retired schoolteacher who sets off on a balloon trip across the Pacific. Crashing on Krakatoa, Sherman discovers a community of American expatriates living in elegant houses of many architectural styles. These people have created a Gourmet Government with the twenty families alternating cooking different cuisines over a twenty day month. The diamond mines of Krakatoa support their lavish lifestyle. Conveniently, these people also have a great interest in ballooning, and use a twenty-balloon platform to escape Krakatoa when the island inevitably erupts. The writing style is a bit-stilted and relies too much on artificially building tension, but it is otherwise a delightful and whimsical little adventure.… (more)
LibraryThing member justinscott66
A 1948 Newberry winner! This story is about a retired math teacher who builds a balloon to help him get away from it all by spending a year floating through the skies. Instead, he is downed on the island of Krakatoa where he finds a secret colony of eccentric people with incredible wealth. This story explores issues of survival, government and innovation.… (more)
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
At the end of a forty year career teaching math at a San Francisco boys' school, professor William Waterman Sherman looks forward to a year of solitude traveling the world in a hot air balloon that he's built for the purpose. He sets out over the Pacific Ocean on August 15, 1883, only to be found weeks later barely alive and floating in the Atlantic Ocean. How did he get there? Professor Sherman will tell his story...but only after San Francisco's Western American Explorers' Club members have heard it. The nation waits with great anticipation as the professor convalesces and then makes his way across the continent to San Francisco, where he is greeted by a great crowd. He has an amazing story to tell the Explorers' Club of an unusual society on an island believed to have been uninhabited. Professor Sherman arrived there just in time to experience one of the world's greatest disasters.

This imaginative story of a Victorian society living on top of a volcano was a delightful diversion at a time when I lacked the concentration for anything but lighthearted and/or comfort reads. I loved the creative details and the author's illustrations, but the delivery lacks sparkle. Most of the book is supposed to be a speech delivered in the style of a Victorian orator. I'm not sure how many of today's young people in the book's target age group would have enough patience with the style to finish the book, but it's one that I could see my brother and his friends enjoying in their upper elementary and middle school years. (My brother and his best friends all went on to earn engineering degrees.) Potential readers should be aware that the book includes a few racial terms and stereotypes that are often found in older works but are generally considered offensive by today's standards.
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LibraryThing member EleanorR
This Book was so much fun to read. It is about this man who gets stranded on a island and it is like a different world there. There are 32 familys living there and there culture is so different first there are diamonds every where and There houses are built on diamonds. There months are 28 days long and the week lenghts are different so every family only has to cook once a month. Also each family cooks a different type of food. One cooks Chiness, One cooks French food, One cooks Indian food etc. The M's, one of the familys Invents things. One of the inventions is a bed that can go up and outside on a nice summer night or go down into to the bathroom. This book is so much fun to read. 5 STARS!!… (more)
LibraryThing member debnance
What a peculiar story! William Sherman, tired of teaching ungrateful children, decides to travel around the world in a hot air balloon. Sherman succeeds, but not in the way he'd anticipated. Unexpectedly, Sherman crashes on the island of Krakatoa. Instead of finding a deserted island, however, he comes upon a strange community of people.The community has a source of wealth, a magnificent diamond mine, that allows the people to do anything they wish. The people have created a zany civilization founded upon the idea of restaurants, eating out at a different family's restaurant every night. Sherman is shown novel designs for homes and odd inventions that have come from the clever minds of the island's residents. Despite their apparent creativity and great wealth, the people choose to live on an island that, every hour of the day, threatens their lives. And, of course, as one might expect, the moment comes when Krakatoa blows. Somehow, the people are able to escape without harm and Sherman is able to return home to San Francisco. Very, very peculiar book.And what an odd coincidence that Twenty-One Balloons is my twenty-first book of the year!… (more)
LibraryThing member phebj
This is an adventure story aimed at 9-to-12 year olds that was originally published in 1947 and won a Newbery Medal. I heard about it earlier this year in a NPR article on “comfort books.” The story includes hot air balloons, presidential trains, a Utopian society, diamond mines, various fanciful inventions, a volcano, and the San Francisco Explorers’ Club, all experienced by Professor William Waterman Sherman.

Professor Sherman’s intention is to get away from people after teaching arithmetic at a boys’ school for 40 years and spend a year traveling in a hot air balloon. His plan goes awry when he crash lands on the Island of Krakatoa in mid-August of 1883, just days before the eruption of the volcano on August 27th.

Probably my favorite part of the story is the beginning when Sherman builds and then takes off in the hot air balloon. The balloon’s basket is designed as a library built of light weight materials with a wrap around porch. In order to bring as many books as possible, he takes only paperbacks with small print. When he first takes off, he spends his time reading in a comfortable chair on the porch with his feet propped up on the balustrade.

Once Sherman lands on Krakatoa, the story never really worked for me. It seemed like one invention after another was trotted out for the reader to marvel over. There is no real character development so I never really cared what happened to Sherman or any of the other inhabitants of Krakatoa and of course you know the volcano will soon erupt.

The author not only wrote the book, he also illustrated it and I liked the illustrations. They definitely added to the story. The other interesting thing is a note in the front of the book where the author acknowledges that his story bears a strong resemblance to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” which he says he has no explanation for.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad book but I was only occasionally enchanted. (Of course, I’m not exactly in the target audience for the book.)

3 stars.
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LibraryThing member jennyo
When we were at B&N on Friday, I was looking at the shelf of Newbery winners, and I saw this book. I'd never heard of it, but was intrigued by the cover, so I picked it up and starting reading. I got caught up in it right away, so bought it and read it this weekend. It's a delightful little story about a math teacher who decides, after 40 years of teaching, that he'd like to spend a year floating around the world in a balloon. Unfortunately, the balloon crash lands on Krakatoa just a few days before the 1883 explosion.

The story ends well and is quite entertaining along the way. It's very gently told. Sort of Dr. Doolittle-y or Moomin-like, if you know what I mean. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and intend to read it to my kids soon. I think they'll like it too.

There's also an author's note that mentions a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald that's similar to this story. The author says he had no idea Fitzgerald's story existed. I think I have a book of all of Fitzgerald's short stories, so I'm going to have to get it out and read The Diamond as Big as The Ritz.
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LibraryThing member shelbyweryavah
Professor William Waterman Shurman wants to get away for a year in a hot air balloon house. He lands on the volcanic island of Krakatoa, which is filled most of the diamonds. His travel was only 40 days. He has many exciting adventures during these 40 days.

I liked this book, it would be awesome to live in a hot air ballon house and get away for a year. But it would be better if you could navigate where you wanted to go.

We would make our own hot air balloon houses out of shoe boxes. We will also design our own hot air balloon to be attached to the top of the house.
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LibraryThing member elisemarie
Professor William Waterman Sherman intends to fly across the Pacific Ocean. But through a twist of fate, he lands on Krakatoa, and discovers a world of unimaginable wealth, eccentric inhabitants, and incredible balloon inventions. Wonderful fiction mixed with true facts about the island of Krakatoa.
LibraryThing member jugglingpaynes
A wonderful funny adventure centered around the eruption of Krakatoa.
LibraryThing member CLCrothers
This book was captivating, very hard to put down once I started reading. This story is about a professor that decided to attmept to travel across the Pacific with hot-air balloons. As he travels across the ocean he ends up on the island of Krakatoa, an island made of and from a volcano. The professor soon learns that he can never leave the island because of all the diamonds and because the inhabitors of the island do not wish for any other people to visit and discover the wealth that exists in Krakatoa.

I can relate to the professor and his wish to get away from everything and everyone and just relax and experience nature. I can also relate to his astonishment at all the diamonds and the thought of being wealthy. If only we could all be rich, would it make the problems disappear?

As a classroom extension, I would have the students draw pictures to illustrate the story as we read through the book together, then hang the pictures around the room. After completing the story, I would have the students retell in their own words using the pictures they drew to tell the story.
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LibraryThing member avcr
Professor Sherman decides he is finished with teaching and wants nothing more than to relax and not be bothered with deadlines. He builds a little house and attaches to a helium balloon, fashioned after the work of Nadar, a French balloonist, he sails off August 15 at 2:00, sails happily but on the seventh day (is this coincidence?) meets catastrophe, can’t make the island he hopes for and begins throwing items out to reduce the weight. A gull pops a hole in his balloon and down he goes. He awakes nude on the beach of what turns out to be Krakatoa. Up until this point the reader thinks it might be real; however, now the fantasy fulcrum begins. Top hats and tails, diamond mines, (the illustrations on p. 70 & 71 sparkle, glitter, shine), Gourmet Government motto “Not New Things, but New Ways” Mr. F, P, Q, R, & M, the “extremely inventive scientists” (p.104) responsible for the Merry-Go-Round balloon. The inhabitants escape the volcano in the Merry-Go-Round balloon, and Sherman is rescued by Captain Simon, transported to San Francisco by the President, tells his story, and determines to start all over again.
If You Liked This, Try: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong, The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli, Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray, Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski, Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright.
Awards: Newbery Medal, 1948
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LibraryThing member goodnightmoon
Fun concept, and full of imaginative potential (I was especially taken with the idea of a balloon house). But I found the story told too speedily, with sentences like "We spent 9 days on the balloon platform" that could have been a whole chapter in themselves. I also found myself drifting during the many technical descriptions. I could see fanciful and creative kids really enjoying it, though.… (more)
LibraryThing member jaygheiser
Read to Kirk. Great book, don't know how I missed reading it before.
LibraryThing member aziemer
William Pene du Bois' book is categorized as a young adult book, though it can easily become a beloved story for all ages. Though this book was originally written in the 1940s, it is a timeless classic. Winner of the Newbery Medal, this story can truly be read over and over again and still maintain the excitement. I found this story completely engaging from the beginning. The characters are unique and quirky with something to hide-making the story a fun and thrilling read. The civilization as well as the island seem to have appeared out of nowhere and the mystery of it all kept me reading to find out the secrets of the island and it's inhabitants.

I read this book as a younger teen and absolutely loved it. Being so, I decided to share it with my fifth grade class last year. We were reading nonfiction information about the real island of Krakatoa and this book fit into comparing the fiction story to the nonfiction information. The kids really enjoyed the outrageously hilarious events that occurred in the book. I highly recommend this book to readers of fantasy and adventure. It is a great read.
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LibraryThing member kmcgiverin05
This book is unlike anything else, very imaginative. I would recommend this for intermediate grade levels.
LibraryThing member juliette07
‘There are two kinds of travel’….. So begins this 1948 Newbery award winner, a brilliant book ranging from scientific truths to absolute fantasy. At first I thought the mingling of fact and fiction would disappoint me. To the contrary I was completely enthralled and really involved in the adventure. Black and white illustrations complemented the text and explained further some of the inventions. Underneath all the fantasy was a depth and a number of truths regarding ‘teamship’ and questions regarding riches. Excellent writing and highly recommended.

A footnote – at first I was captivated as I too have flown in hot air balloons. This has been with a friend, an amateur in the Pyrennees along with my husband, not to mention my then 87 year old mum and friend! It is the most magical and wonderful form of transport. I have already recommended this to Dave and his family, especially Chloe whose childhood took her round the Pyrenean countryside as her mum followed their beautiful balloon named One World Dreaming.
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LibraryThing member SugarPlumFairy
My son and I loved this book. Funny, interesting, and engaging--a favorite that will be read again.
LibraryThing member nmhale
Another Newbery in my quest to read them all. du Bois's story was a dry read, interesting but not gripping; perhaps the older publication date accounts for the tone. The novel is presented as if it were nonfiction, a travel essay of sorts, but once I adjusted to the style, I found this story within a story to be a quick read. Professor Sherman departed on a trip around the world in his air balloon, only to be discovered months later, in the wrong ocean, with twenty balloons. What happened? The populace of the United States is breathless with excitement as they wait for the Professor's riveting tale.

The author blends supposed scientific accuracy with fantastic imaginations. The characters are flat, because so much attention is focused on what is happening and the inventions and their descriptions. As I wrote earlier, this story is clearly employing a remote tone, trying to present itself as a factual account. I'm surprised by this choice, since what Professor Sherman experiences is so fantastic and incredible, it should have been sparkling with more excitement and less dry narration. Even many nonfiction books employ a dramatic approach. Nonetheless, I was curious to hear all that occurred, and was vaguely concerned about the fates of the characters involved. A decent book, but not as good as many other Newbery options.
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LibraryThing member Mint.ChocolateOcelot
A cute story, very light, and not scary at all. Great for bedtime reading! Older readers and "realists" will note the logical fallacies in the Utopian society which the citizens of Krakatoa have built, and how easily it might collapse. Also present are anachronisms such as hydrogen balloons, which are handwaved to be safe and convenient, due to the story taking place circa 1883 (before the Hindenburg disaster in 1937). However, if taken as a light fantasy story, the Victorian tone is charming and delightful.… (more)
LibraryThing member DarlenesBookNook
I read this book aloud to my daughters. It is the winner of the 1948 Newbery Medal.

We loved it! What a great adventure story! It is about a man who yearns for a peaceful, solitary sojourn in his hot air balloon, only to end up on an inhabited but undiscovered island called Krakatoa.

The book is very entertaining, and we loved the "way of life" on the island of Krakatoa. The author has a great imagination!… (more)
LibraryThing member sylvatica
I ended this book with a very large question mark over my head. It made very little sense, and was not even a good enough ‘rollicking adventure’ to make its nonsensical nature okay. An American ex-pat community on Krakatoa is based on a socialist restaurant system whose premier technology is hydrogen balloons and steam engines? This community is saved from the eruption via balloon? You see my problem. If you like imagined cultural systems with strange provenances, read The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder – his is pretty strange, but a lot more fun and a lot better thought out. (pannarrens)… (more)
LibraryThing member MissJ.
This is a science fiction book for readers who don't always love science fiction. Everything is explained, so it seems super realistic!
LibraryThing member jlsherman
Didn't particularly enjoy the book.
LibraryThing member Pollifax
I found it to be an enjoyable book with a fun plot and good descriptions! It was very different but good!




(400 ratings; 4)
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