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Kids’ Book Review: A Balloon for a Blunderbuss

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

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