Gr 1-5-Lon Gambetta's balloon escape from besieged Paris during the Franco-Prussian War is the factual basis for this fictionalized picture book. Gambetta floats over the surrounding enemy, sees clouds shaped like horses with wings that remind him of his childhood and erases the war for awhile. He lands safely, raises an army, and marches back toward Paris. The book is handsome, but chilly. Curlee's intensely colored paintings are impressive, with their clear and simple outlines and dramatic perspectives, but their stylized forms serve to further detach readers from an already fragmented, self-consciously spare text. It's hard to know just what the point is. The perpetual nature of war? One man's moment of peace in the midst of violence? Nostalgia for childhood? Not historical explanation, apparently, since Gambetta was not the first Frenchman to balloon over enemy lines, nor did he fly alone, nor were the French eventually victorious-all of which the book implies, to some degree. The text fails to give a full sense of character, place, or concept, and the only creatures in the illustrations that seem to breathe are the imaginary horses.-Nancy Palmer, The Little School, Bellevue, WA
Stunning, full-color artwork highlights this picture-book story of Leon Gambetta's dramatic escape from Paris via a hot air balloon during the Franco-Prussian War. When Prussian soldiers surrounded Paris, Gambetta launched himself in a small airship, floated over the enemy troops, and finally landed safely south of the city. There he raised an army that eventually marched back to Paris to fight the Prussians. Haseley juxtaposes images of war and peace throughout his story. When Gambetta soars aloft, he can no longer hear or see the fighting below. Instead, he finds himself mesmerized by the quiet of the upper atmosphere and by the clouds, which look to him like winged horses. Later, the memory of his serene flight sustains him, even when he is immersed in battle. Curlee's paintings display an interesting combination of crisp-edged figures (used for close-ups and real images) and hazy backgrounds (used for the imagined horses and to simulate fog). Both styles of art are aesthetically pleasing and appropriate for this fantasy with a historical setting. Although young children may miss the understated messages about war and peace, they will be entranced by the artwork. The book's true audience, though, may be middle-school students, who will find the book a thought-provoking catalyst for discussion and writing.