Before You Watch That Thanksgiving Parade…

h1 November 24th, 2011 by jules

Collage sketch from Melissa Sweet’s Balloons Over Broadway

I know, I know. I don’t need to be that insufferable nerd, who is blogging on Thanksgiving Day. I’ll keep this short, as there’s fudge pie waiting for me anyway, but I wanted to do a quick post in celebration of Melissa Sweet’s Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade (Houghton Mifflin, November). (I’ve had this beautiful book for months and keep slipping and calling it Bullets Over Broadway and then find myself whispering, “No, no, don’t speak. Please don’t speak,” which is just the wrong narrative altogether.) If you’re here, taking in this post, why then, here’s some quick reading before you watch that Macy’s parade — a book about Tony Sarg, the man responsible for those annual ginormous (and ginormously impressive) balloons. Melissa shares this morning here at 7-Imp some images and early sketches from the book (another early sketch is pictured right), as well as archival images of Tony and his work. (She also pointed out to me the below video, footage from the ’30s of the Macy’s parade. Fascinating to see.)

Now, another reason I can be brief today is that there are lots of other great write-ups I can point you towards with regard to this wonderful picture book biography of Sarg, pictured later in this post. (And I mean wonderful: This is one lovingly-crafted and very engaging book, but then I’m not surprised, as it comes from Melissa Sweet.) There’s Jama Rattigan’s early November post (“If ever there was a perfect biographer for Master Puppeteer Tony Sarg, it’s Melissa Sweet”); Mary Lee’s post at A Year of Reading; this great interview with Melissa at Kirkus; and this write-up by Pete Hamill in the New York Times (“Sweet’s brilliant combination of collage, design, illustration and text gives ‘Balloons Over Broadway’ an amazing richness”) — to name just several of many, I’m sure.

So, if you’re so inclined, you can go read those posts from those talented folks, but here I shall briefly share some images Melissa sent, as well as throw in my own enthusiastic words for this book. Melissa crafted this biography—which nearly glows with its reverence for the subject matter—with gouache, collage, and mixed media. It’s entirely a delight for one’s eyes to take it all in. Telling the story of Sarg—the inventive child who grew up to make marionettes and puppets and then developed the balloons that parade, still to this day, over New York City every Thanksgiving—she gives a tip of the hat to a creative artist about whom most children haven’t heard — and does so in such an accessible, inviting way that even the youngest of children, I think, would be taken with this book.

Kirkus has called this one “bright” and “brimming”: “Sweet’s charming mixed-media layouts form a playful bridge between her creative process and Sarg’s. She fashioned whimsical toys from painted blocks, buttons and fabric, combining them in photo-collages with old books, cut paper, imagined sketches for Sarg’s projects, watercolor images of parade scenes and much more.” I’m with Jama in that there couldn’t possibly be a better picture book artist to tell Sarg’s story.

I thank Melissa for sharing today. Some of the spreads from the book below are small-ish and, if you want to see up-close and detailed, a bit challenging to see, but this is one picture book worth holding in your own hands anyway. If you’re so inclined, visit your local library or bookstore. This biography is a delight from beginning to end.

Melissa’s storyboard for the book

Early sketch of the “Macy’s Wondertown” windows illustration

“…When Tony moved to New York City, the Tony Sarg marionettes began performing on Broadway…. Macy’s had heard about Tony’s puppets and asked him to design a ‘puppet parade’ for the store’s holiday windows. So Tony made new puppets based on storybook characters, then attached them to gears and pulleys to make them move.”

“Each year the parade grew. But when Macy’s brought in lions and tigers—in addition to the bears, elephants, and camels—the animals roared and growled and frightened the children. Macy’s asked Tony to replaced the animals.”

“Tony hoped to replace the animals with some kind of puppets, but his marionettes were less than three feet tall…. Tony knew of a company in Ohio that made blimps out of rubber—the perfect material for any weather…. Still, how would Tony make his big puppets move? Then Tony had an idea—from an Indonesian rod puppet
in his toy collection.”

“But now the sidewalks were so packed with people that only those in the first few rows could really see the parade. Tony realized his puppets would have to be even bigger and higher off the ground. And though the sticks helped to steer the puppets, they were stiff and heavy. Tony wanted his balloons to articulate—to move and gesture—more like puppets. But how? With a marionette, the controls are above
and the puppet hangs down…”

“But what if the controls were below and the puppet could rise up?”

Early sketch

Tony Sarg as illustrator, 1940

* * * * * * *

BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY: THE TRUE STORY OF THE PUPPETEER OF MACY’S PARADE. © 2011 by Melissa Sweet. Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, New York. All images here reproduced by permission of Melissa Sweet.

9 comments to “Before You Watch That Thanksgiving Parade…”

  1. Nerdy or no, this is really cool.
    Happy Day to you!

  2. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and love this post!

  3. Love, love, love this history and these old images and footage. What a fascinating, fun topic. Sweet, Melissa!

  4. Thanks, Julie! This morning was the first time I actually sat down and took a close look at BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY. I love it, and then Robin forwarded me your posting, which was great fun. Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Great post…and the perfect day for posting it. I just checked out a huge stack of picture book biographies from the library yesterday, but some of the newest ones are missing. I will have to find this one at the book store! Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy your fudge pie today 🙂

  6. I saw that bottom illustration on the front of the publisher’s catalog -it is gorgeous close up too. I can’t wait to get my hands on the actual book.

  7. The human imagination is our delivery system, isn’t it?

  8. Thank you for a wonderful post, Jules. It was a thrill to be at the parade and to come full circle. The balloons really did articulate like upside down marionettes and the crowd went wild!
    Happy Thanksgiving, Melissa

  9. You got to be there, Melissa? Excellent. I really hoped they’d mention the book. They could have, and perhaps I missed it.

    I read it with my girls RIGHT before taking in the parade, so it was fascinating to see with Tony’s story in mind.

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