The Twenty-One Balloons

The Twenty-One Balloons


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A Newbery Medal Winner

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.Winner of the 1948 Newbery Medal, this classic fantasy-adventure is now available in a handsome new edition.

"William Pene du Bois combines his rich imagination, scientific tastes, and brilliant artistry to tell astory that has no age limit."—The Horn Book

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142403303
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/21/2005
Series: Puffin Modern Classics Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 377,128
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.48(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

William Pène du Bois (1916–1993) was an American writer and illustrator who is best remembered for his books for young readers. He was one of the founders of The Paris Review and illustrated books by Jules Verne, John Steinbeck, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Charlotte Zolotow, and others. He won the 1948 Newbery Medal for The Twenty-One Balloons and received two Caldecott Honors for his illustrations for Bear Party and Lion.

Read an Excerpt

The Twenty-One Balloons

By William Pene du Bois


Copyright © 1975 William Pene du Bois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-14-240330-X

Chapter One

Professor Sherman's Incredible Loyalty

The Western American Explorers' 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 August 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. When he was sighted and rescued in the middle of the wreckage of twenty balloons in the Atlantic by the Captain of the freighter S.S. Cunningham, en route to New York City, he was immediately put to bed, for he was sick and weary, suffering from cold and shock. He was treated with great care by the ship's doctor, strengthened with food and brandy by the ship's cook, honored by the personal attention of Captain John Simon of the S.S. Cunningham. When he was well enough to talk, the Doctor, Cook, and Captain leaned over him at his bedside and said in excited voices, "How do you feel?"

"I could be worse," said Professor Sherman, rather feebly.

"Do you feel strong enough to tell us your story?" asked Captain Simon.

"I am strong enough," said Professor Sherman, "and I want first of all to thank you three gentlemen for your kind attention. But, gentlemen," he exclaimed, "as an honorary member of the Western American Explorers" Club in San Francisco, I feel sincerely that I owe the first accounting of my extraordinary adventure to that illustrious fraternity!"

At this, of course, Captain John Simon was somewhat hurt. After all, he had ordered the rescue of Professor Sherman when he found him floating around almost dead in a maze of broken planks and empty balloons, he had saved his life. And the ship's doctor had healed and tenderly nursed the Professor back on the road of recovery. The ship's cook had gone out of his way to prepare special, delicate food for him. They were all three most disappointed. This also made them much more curious. They tried all sorts of ways to get him to tell his story. They tried arguing with, persuading, tricking, and agitating him. They tried to entice him with spirits. They gave him medicine which made him dopey. But he only seemed to become more and more firm as he exclaimed as loudly as his strength would permit, "This tale of mine shall first be heard in the auditorium of the Western American Explorers' Club in San Francisco, of which I am an honorary member!"

"Will you at least tell me your name?" asked Captain Simon. "So that I might make a proper entry and report of the rescue in the ship's log."

"That information I shall not withhold," said the Professor. "My name is William Waterman Sherman."

"And now one more question," said Captain Simon.

"No more questions!" interrupted Professor Sherman.

"You will be well rewarded for rescuing me and my fare will be paid in full. I am saving every other detail of the voyage for the Western ..."

"All right, all right," said Captain Simon. He left the Professor's cabin, went to his own, and made the following entry in the ship's log:

Tuesday, September 8, 1883;°, w.long. 17°; weather clear-At twelve noon, sighted strange wreckage in the distance. Approached it with caution. Found it to be a mass of broken wooden beams to which were attached twenty ascension balloons in various stages of deflation. In the middle of all of this flotsam there appeared to be a large furnace, painted red with gold trim. The furnace toppled over and sank before we were near enough to make out clearly what it could possibly be for. Clinging to a beam which was part of a balustrade we found a man, near exhaustion and suffering from cold and shock. This man's clothes, unlike those of most explorers or balloonists, seemed suited for fashionable evening wear. We picked up the man, questioned him at length when he was able to talk, but the only information we could get out of him was that his name was William Waterman Sherman. Orders have been given to treat Professor Sherman with the normal care and attention given a regular passenger of this ship. He shall be treated and billed accordingly.

When the S.S. Cunningham arrived in New York, Professor Sherman was still in no condition to get around by himself. He planned a few days' rest before boarding a train for San Francisco. He asked Captain Simon to help him get to a hotel. Captain Simon helped him into a carriage and took him to the Murray Hill Hotel. He saw that he got a room, wrote down the number of the room. He then went back to his ship, picked up his ship's log which he took to the offices of the New York Tribune. He knew the story of the rescue had news value and that he could sell it for a handsome price to this paper. The Tribune bought the story immediately, paid Captain Simon for this information, and sent two reporters to Professor Sherman's room at the Murray Hill at once. Of course Professor Sherman didn't like this idea at all. To all questions asked him by the reporters he replied, "Gentlemen, I am saving the extraordinary details of my voyage for a talk in the auditorium of the Western American Explorers' Club in San Francisco-you are only wasting your time and mine. Good day, gentlemen!"

The reporters were quite disgusted at this. They made the most they could of the information found in Captain Simon's log and printed whatever story they could make of it on the front page. The story, incomplete as it was, did attract considerable attention. The headline read: PROFESSOR SHERMAN FOUND IN ATLANTIC WITH WRECKAGE OF TWENTY BALLOONS, and the sub-headline read: Refuses to Explain How or Why.

The San Francisco Tribune naturally picked up this story, with tremendous interest. They wired the information to the New York Tribune that a Professor Sherman had only recently attempted to fly the Pacific Ocean in one balloon. The New York Tribune looked in its picture files and found a picture of Professor Sherman taken at the Higgins Balloon Factory. They sent a photographer to the Murray Hill Hotel who (with considerable difficulty) took a picture of Professor Sherman. The following day the New York Tribune printed the two pictures side by side, to show it was quite the same man, in the front page with a headline which read: PROFESSOR SHERMAN IN WRONG OCEAN WITH TOO MANY BALLOONS, and the subheading: Refuses to Explain How or Why. These two stories were enough to excite the curiosity of millions, and Professor Sherman, in his bed at the Murray Hill, suddenly found himself to be the center of a considerable amount of the attention of the world. The Mayor of New York paid him a special visit. With all the pomp and ceremony that could possibly be displayed around the sick bed of a weary explorer in a hotel room, the Mayor presented the Professor with the Key to the City. Professor Sherman thanked him at length for this honor.

"And now," said the Mayor, "would it be too much to ask you in return to give to me, to New York, to the nation, to the world, the details of your amazing exploit?"

At this Professor Sherman exploded with anger. "Out of my room, Your Honor!" he shouted. "What matter of bribe is this, trying to buy my loyalty to the Western American Explorers' Club with the Key to this City? Out of my room, I say, and take your friends, reporters, and photographers with you!"

The New York Tribune made much of this the next morning, carrying the story on the front page again with a banner headline which read: KEY TO CITY FAILS TO UNLOCK SECRETS OF SHERMAN'S VOYAGE.

By now the public's curiosity was at a fever pitch, and the following morning Professor Sherman received a telegram which to a less extraordinary personage would have seemed to deserve far more undivided and humble attention. It was from the Secretary to the President of the United States. It was an invitation to the White House suggesting that this might be the ideal spot from which to reveal to the world the story which it was so impatiently waiting to hear. It requested that the Professor telegraph his reply. Professor Sherman dictated the following message, to be sent to the President's Secretary, without so much as a moment's reflection:

Dear Sir,

I appreciate the fact that the President's invitation amounts to what I should consider a Command Performance. However there is a code of ethics among explorers which l find myself at this particular moment unable to break. Had I a less fascinating story' to tell, nobody, except my fellow explorers, would care where or when I gave account of it. The very fact that my adventure is so unparalleled multiplies the need that I keep true to my oath of membership and first share the details of my passage with my brothers of the Western American Explorers' Club in San Francisco.

Will you please convey to the President this message and my sincere thanks for the honor he has bestowed on me by sending me this gracious invitation.

William Waterman Sherman

Instead of being angry at this reply, the President showed that he well appreciated the Professor's loyalty to his club. He had his Secretary send the following unprecedented wire to Professor Sherman:

Dear Sir,

The President understands exactly how you feel. However, in view of the fact that the world is waiting impatiently to hear your story, he has instructed me to place the Presidential train at your disposal with instructions to clear the lines between New York and San Francisco so that you may get there with all possible speed. He has been informed that you are resting up after your unfortunate crash into the Atlantic Ocean and do not feel quite well enough to travel at present. He assures you, sir, that you will be as comfortable in his car as you are in your hotel bedroom, and that all possible care and attention will be given you on your trip. If this is convenient, and he believes it surely is, an ambulance will pick you up this evening at eight o'clock to carry you in comfort to the train.

Please do not bother to convey your thanks to the President. He will eagerly await reports of your trip across the continent as the President and the world breathlessly stand by waiting to hear your story from the auditorium of the Western American Explorers' Club in San Francisco.

The Secretary to the President of the United States

Professor William Waterman Sherman left the Murray Hill Hotel that evening at eight o'clock, San Francisco bound, on the Presidential train.


Excerpted from the Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois Copyright © 1975 by William Pene du Bois . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

An absurd and fantastic tale. . . . Truth and fiction are cleverly mingled. (School Library Journal)

Customer Reviews

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The Twenty-One Balloons 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 111 reviews.
Berkana More than 1 year ago
I read this book the first time in elementary school. It really made me aware that there is a great big wide world out there with many different cultures, places, and experiences. This book should be read by children to enhance their reading skills, open their minds to adventure, science, empathy, so many different reasons. I wish many adults in the world today would read this book and learn to appreciate all people in the great world we live in. A fascinating must read for all to enjoy!
LiveLongLove More than 1 year ago
I loved this book!! First i saw it in the store read the back cover and it sounded good. Then i went home and guess what, i read the book in 2 days. That is some type of record for me. But i read it soo fast because i loved it! Go and get it today!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very thumbs up. It moves kind of slow but I read this book as a child when it was given to me by the school librarian. For me it showed a great deal of imagination and ingenuity.It takes a simple pleasure of riding in a hot air balloon and combines it with a disaster of great magnitude to make a imaginative experiment using people on a isolated island. Normal everyday chores are made bearable and even enjoyable with the utmost thought of how to use pulleys and levers,cleaning your room and making your bed,keeping things neat & tidy are made very easy and fun,with a " Mary Poppin's "type of style. Worth a couple of hours to get you out of the hum-drum.-
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So boring if u read this for school
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is incrredibly confussing. I am a 13 year old jr high student and i read a year above my grade level yet i dont understand a 93 page childrens book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wouldnt give it one star. It was very boring. Had o read it for school and it took me 20 or 30 minutes to get through a page
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love love love this book,my favorite of all time:) i especially love chapter 5+
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book. Imaginative and creative. I recommend this to advanced readers
iAmNumber4 More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 2 days, which for me is amazing. But i was just so into it that i just couldn't stop reading it. I had just got sucked into the book and couldn't wait to find out what the next chapter would be about so i just read it. i would love for you to read this because it is award winning and i get-sucked into book.
Frood More than 1 year ago
I had never heard of "resturant economics". I had heard of this book, but could not remember the premise. Originally written at the turn of the century (late 1800s?), the story is little dated, but the thought-provoking scenarios and people relations issues remain current in any era. What would happen if someone discovered untold wealth on an unknown island? What sort of society could one build? And what security would have to be erected to keep out unwanted visitors? I was able to use this book (at about a 5th grade reading level) with one of my students who is fascinated with math and money issues. It served as an excellent teaching tool to discuss economics and the impacts of wealth on a society. The story was engaging enough (though somewhat dated) to keep the student's interest. The added intrigue of hot air balloon flight gave the story an extra boost (science buffs will have to suspend some belief). All in all and enjoyable and quick read.
catlover55 More than 1 year ago
this book is very absorbing and i liked it a lot! if you like adventure and suprises you will love this book !
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well, my dad actually told me about this book... he said he read it when he was in school. So when i read it i loved it. It is a great and adventerous story that is fun to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Soooooooo boring!!!!!!!!
tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a fun adventure story in the vein of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" but for kids. The Utopian society living on Krakatoa, the idea of ballooning around the earth, a United States where the President offers his private train for travel - it is all idealistic and fun. An interesting reflection of the age.
jaygheiser on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read to Kirk. Great book, don't know how I missed reading it before.
justinscott66 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Pollifax on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found it to be an enjoyable book with a fun plot and good descriptions! It was very different but good!
DarlenesBookNook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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!
phebj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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!
kmcgiverin05 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is unlike anything else, very imaginative. I would recommend this for intermediate grade levels.
aziemer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
nmhale on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
jugglingpaynes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A wonderful funny adventure centered around the eruption of Krakatoa.
jennyo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.