Book Review: Twenty-One Balloons

21BalloonsCoverThe Twenty One Balloons is an excellent tale about a man whose balloon led him on a fantastic journey to the volcanic island of Krakatoa. The Twenty One Balloons is fiction, and was originally published in 1947. The book’s author,William Pène du Bois, has also written Lion, Bear Party, Bear Circus, Bear in Mind, Otto and the Magic Potatoes, Peter Graves along with some other books. The Twenty One Balloons is a good read for all ages and it has also won the Newbery Medal.

WilliamPeneDuBoisWilliam Pène du Bois (1916 to 1993) published his first book when he was seventeen. After writing five more books he joined the army and served from 1941 to 1945 in an artillery unit stationed in Bermuda. In 1943 he married Jane Bouche. They later divorced and he remarried to Willa Kim in 1955. Five years later he developed an interest in vintage cars and went to a great expense to refurbish a 1931 Brewster Croydon Coupe Rolls-Royce P11. He died of a stroke in Nice, France at the age of 77.

The protagonist is Professor William Waterman Sherman. He was an arithmetic teacher in San Francisco for forty years before deciding to take a year-long vacation in his balloon, The Globe. I assume Prof. William is about sixty years old in this book. He was also a member of the Western American Explorers’ Club.

The Twenty One Balloonsis a Man vs. Nature story so the antagonist is nature. First a seagull ruptures the balloon and crashes Prof. William and The Globe. Then he must get used to the pitching earth of Krakatoa. Lastly he and all of his new friends must escape the island before it explodes with the biggest (and loudest) volcanic eruption ever.

Out of the eighty people Prof. William meets on Krakatoa, Mr. F. is the most important. Along with his wife, Mrs. F., and their children, F1 and F2, he runs the French restaurant on the island. Mr. F. is the person who first greets Prof. William after his crash, lets him sleep in his restaurant/house and stays with him for the majority of the trip to safety from Krakatoa.

The Twenty One Balloons clearly states when it takes place. The day Prof. William was rescued in the Atlantic was the 8th of September in 1883. Something else interesting was that he arrived back in San Francisco forty days after he left.Therefore traveling around the world in forty days, halving the record from the book Around the World in Eighty Days.

The book takes you around the world but the main focus of the book is Krakatoa. Krakatoa is between Java and Sumatra (see map below) and is a currently active volcano.


In the book the island is fringed by jungle with a beach at the very edge andin the middle is the volcano and a large diamond mine. Between the jungle and the volcano are lawns and the house/restaurants of the twenty families, A thru T, that live in the island. The houses of the families are luxurious due to the immense value of the diamond mines with the diamond prices of the day. The Krakatoans also don’t want anybody else to know about the mines.

Prof. William Sherman was a teacher of arithmetic for forty years before he decided to vacation over the Pacific in his balloon, The Globe. But his trip goes horribly wrong when he ends up crashing into Krakatoa, a volcanic island halfway around the world from his start in San Francisco, a week after departure. There he meets the Krakatoans, settlers from San Francisco who came to claim the riches of the diamond mines of the island.They rescue him, give him room and board in their luxurious houses and give him a taste of the lavish lifestyle of the Gourmet Government. But just as he’s settling in he must escape on a balloon life raft before the paradise island of Krakatoa goes ka-boom!

The Twenty One Balloons mentions the book Around the World in Eighty Days because in The Twenty One Balloons, the record is halved. I have not read Around the World in Eighty Days but I believe it also contains balloon travel. This makes a very interesting connection between the two books.

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