Krakatoa is perhaps one of the most famous volcanoes that has exploded on earth in all of history, and it has even found itself in a children’s chapter book titled, The Twenty-One Balloons by William Penè du Bois. This novel is about Professor William Waterman Shepherd who becomes bored with his current lifestyle and decides to soar across the Pacific Ocean and around the world in a hot air balloon. However, he finds himself crashing onto the enigmatic island of Krakatoa full of hidden wealth and the most mighty of all volcanoes.
Eccentric people with bizarre behaviors dwell on the island and are aware of the imminent danger of the nearby volcano, Krakatoa, erupting. They even have an escape plan in mind for the worst of circumstances. The society finds du Bois and takes him in, and together the people learn what is truly valuable in life and that money cannot solve every problem. There are drawings throughout the book that help clear up the complex inventions and ideas mentioned in the story.
This novel is well-written and dives into deep subject matter while still reeling the reader in and taking him on an adventure he will never forget. The world that the people of Krakatoa live in is fascinating and treats upon the difficult issue of greed and gives interesting insights into the majesty of volcanoes. Children 10-years-old and up would enjoy this fun and easy read. The Twenty-One Balloons received the Newberry Medal in 1948 and the readers on Amazon have awarded it a little over four out of five stars. It is said of the author’s work in this novel that he “combines rich imagination, scientific tastes, and brilliant artistry” which reaches beyond any age limit.
Du Bois was born on May 9, 1916 in Nutley, New Jersey and died on Feb. 5, 1993 in Nice, France. Most of his family members were artists, so it makes sense that he studied art in France and published children books in the mid-1930s. Du Bois also worked in World War II as a contributor for Yank and other magazines. In 1953 he became the first art director of The Paris Review.
The Twenty-One Balloons is his most famous book, possibly because of the famous volcano, Krakatoa, slumbering inside it, but he also wrote several other works. Du Bois composed a series of books about the seven deadly sins that he was unable to finish. The first, Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead, exhibited laziness, Pretty Pretty Peggy Moffit, pride, Porko von Popbutton, gluttony, and Call Me Bandicoot showcased greed. Two of his works, The Alligator Case and The Horse in the Camel Suit are parodies of Raymond Chandler’s detective novels. Du Bois also had a soft spot for bears, as seen in his works, Bear Party, Bear Circus, and Gentleman Bear, which is semi-autobiographical. The rest of his books are The Flying Locomotive, Peter Graves, Lion, and The Forbidden Forest. Du Bois also illustrated certain works by prominent authors such as Edward Lear, Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Roald Dahl, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Mark Strand, a Canadian poet and author of short fiction.
Du Bois’ book, The Twenty-One Balloons, continues to be read in classrooms today and offers a stimulating look at the nature and power of volcanoes, especially the dangerous and mind-blowing Krakatoa, and the nature and power of humans who work side-by-side for the good of one another and civilization.
Opinion by Rachel Fike