CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 4. . . .September 27, 2013
Like many of you, I’m no stranger to loss: I lost my grandfather nearly three years ago. I can attest to the grief that comes with the death of a loved one, including the emptiness and loneliness that inevitably follow. It is this emotional upheaval that Appleby portrays in Ella and the Balloons in the Sky.
The picture book opens days from Ella’s ninth birthday. She’s about to feed her pets when Ella realizes that they’re missing. Immediately, she begins her search of “the whole house and even the lawn.” When Ella spots them floating away tied to balloons, she does everything possible to reach them but is unsuccessful. After each failed attempt, Ella seeks out her mother who has this to offer her:
Appleby’s approach to the difficult topic of loss is not only original but also whimsical. His rhyme is not forceful but gentle, giving a lightness to the story. Appleby promises his young readers that both imagination and memories will take them through the pain they’re currently feeling. He also reassures them that, even though they’ve lost a loved one, there will always be someone there who will hold their hand.
Pirie’s illustrations give depth to Ella’s longing by depicting her endless search with absolute tenderness. Her decision to use a limited palette and to keep her art simple brings about a poignancy that allows Ella’s emotional journey to remain centre stage. Two illustrations in particular must be singled out: Ella’s searching her house and Ella’s embracing her mom. Both pages are heartbreakingly honest in communicating Ella’s desperation for a reunion. The final illustration of a locket with pictures of Ella’s pets beautifully reiterates that love will always keep her loved ones near.
Ella and the Balloons in the Sky is the perfect book for any family with children that’s experienced a loss and is searching for a way to comfort a young, broken heart.
Inderjit Deogun is a communications professional in Toronto, ON.
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