Kids’ Book Review: A Balloon for a Blunderbuss

[ 2 ] December 15, 2008 |

By Nancy King

A Balloon for a Blunderbuss, created by Bob Gill and Alastair Reid, was first published in 1961 and has been lushly re-issued by Phaidon Press. The narrative is so pure and simple and the drawings so bold and vivid that reading it with my daughter left me uncharacteristically speechless.

balloonforblunderbussHere’s the opening:
“I have a butterfly in my hands. What will you give me for my butterfly?”
“I will give you a wishbone”

“What would I do with a wishbone?”
“Well, you could trade it for a kite with a tail . . . or a Chinese lantern.”

And so it goes. The trades becomes more and more elaborate–ninety-seven stamps, a brass horn, a trolley car, a tall tower . . . a small town . . . an island and all the ocean around it–until the speaker has EVERYTHING! And when his trading partner says, “Show me your butterfly,” he opens his hands and it flies away.

So we were left to puzzle it out: Is the story telling us that anything is possible? That you can start with a tiny butterfly and end up with EVERYTHING? Or is the message that you should be content with something as simple–and simply exquisite–as a butterfly because by risking it, you risk losing everything?

We talked it over for a while until my daughter scampered off the bed. I love that she was delighted by the illustrations and the very idea that you could trade your way up to a gumball machine, while I was saddled with philosophical questions about the nature of possession and loss. That’s how I know this is a remarkable book.

A Balloon for Blunderbuss by Bob Gill and Alastair Reid
$14.95 Phaidon Press

Category: books / stories

Anisa Raoof

about the author ()

Anisa Raoof is the publisher of She combines being a mom with her experience as an artist, designer, psych researcher and former co-director of the Providence Craft Show to create the go-to spot for families in Rhode Island and beyond. She loves using social media to connect parents with family-related businesses and services and promoting ways for parents to engage offline with their kids. Anisa believes in the power of working together and loves to find ways to collaborate with others. An online enthusiast, still likes to unplug often by reading books and magazines, drawing, learning to knit, making pop-up books with her two sons and listening to records with her husband.

Comments (2)

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  1. David says:

    How about a red paperclip for a house? Your book review reminded me of this news story from a couple years ago…

    Web site from the man who did the trades:

    BBC Article:

  2. calendar chirp says:

    I think there is a man who did this by selling an eraser on eBay or something. This looks like a really good book.

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