"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

ReedALOUD: A Voyage in the Clouds

This week, I am reading A Voyage in the Clouds, The Mostly True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785, written by Matthew Olshan and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 

"In the year and a half since the flight of the first manned balloon in 1783, an Italian has flown, a Scot has flown, a woman has flown, even a sheep has flown. But no one has flown from one country to another. John Jeffries, an Englishman, and his pilot, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a Frenchman, want to be the first. On January 7, 1785, they set out to cross the English Channel to France in a balloon. All seemed to be going fine, until Jeffries decides the balloon looks too fat and adjusts the air valve—how hard could it be? Too bad he drops the wrench over the side of the aerial car. With no way to adjust the valve, the balloon begins to sink. Jeffries and Blanchard throw as much as they can overboard—until there is nothing left, not even their clothes. Luckily, they come up with a clever (and surprising) solution that saves the day. A VOYAGE IN THE CLOUDS is a journey that will keep kids laughing the whole way."

I can't think of a better way to capture the hearts and minds...and the funny bones...of 4th and 5th graders at the start of the new school year. I had too much fun reading this, pulling out my best French accent to further enliven the story. Really, there was no need, the students were hooked from the outset. 

Written with a wry sense of humor, the lyrical narrative is wonderful to read aloud. The meticulous detail in Sophie Blackall's historically-accurate illustrations further engage the reader. The energy, emotion, and drama in both the narrative and art play off each other wonderfully.  

A Voyage in the Clouds is one of those books that the students ask, "Wait, I didn't see that, can you bring that page back?" The rug was like the wavy ocean over which Jeffries and Blanchard traveled as the bodies leaned left and right to get a better look. The students bodies mimicked the dramatic moments as the balloons dropped toward the sea by leaning their bodies back, only to fall forward in peels of laughter at what saves our two balloonists from plunging into the Channel.

The personality of Jeffries and Blanchard carries through the text and into Sophie's illustrations. We see they soften as they move from disdain and distrust to friendship. Sophie Blackall's rendering of the ocean lapping at the sides of the wicker arial car, the layers of clothes being flung from it, and the expressions and body language of our protagonists is spectacular.

The students had many questions and thoroughly enjoyed the author's note, where they learned which parts of the story are true and which part Matthew Olshan has taken some liberties with. No spoiler alerts here. Just know, it's fabulous. There's also a link to Dr. Jeffries' monograph for further reading: http://archive.org/stream/narrativeoftwoae00jeff#page/n9/mode/2up).

After sharing the story and reflecting on Jeffries' and Blanchard's journey across the Channel (la Manche), we connected to how Jeffries and Blanchard had some serious obstacles to achieving their hopes and dreams. The students and I turned our energy to thinking about our hopes and dreams related to our library program. I modeled my hope for this school year:

I hope to create a library program that allows you to expand your thinking, exercise your creativity, and try out your ideas. I also hope to use this interactive whiteboard more effectively.
You can see the results of their work on this blog post: 4th and 5th Graders Hopes and Dreams inspired by A Voyage in the Clouds. 

A Voyage in the Clouds comes out in October. It's one that should be on your shelves.