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William Pène du Bois

William Pène du Bois, (1916-1993), author and illustrator

Born William Pène Sherman du Bois on May 9, 1916, in Nutley, New Jersey, United States.

He was an author and illustrator of children's books, best known for The Twenty-One Balloons, published in 1948. From 1953 to 1960 he worked with George Plimpton as the Art Editor for The Paris Review.

He died on February 5, 1993 in Nice, France.


Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

William Pène du Bois won the Newbury Medal in 1948 for The Twenty-One Balloons, and Caldecott Honors in 1952 for Bear Party and 1957 for Lion.

Some of his books (Bear Party , Lion) are picture books with a minimum of text, and properly classified as children's books.

Others, however, such as The Three Policemen, The Great Geppy, The Twenty-one Balloons, Squirrel Hotel, Peter Graves, The Giant, appeal to all ages. These books exhibit whimsical ingenuity in story and illustrations.

Though not usually so classified, these books seem to qualify as science fiction. Their interest lies more in their imaginative elaboration of ideas than in their characters. These ideas are exhibited in great detail. Some are fantastic, but many are plausible, and some (such as the Balloon Merry-Go-Round in The Twenty-one Balloons) might well be feasible.

A passage from The Twenty-one Balloons may serve to illustrate his style and method. In the story, the Explorers' Club of San Francisco is capped with its hemispherical cupola, painted as a globe of the Northern Hemisphere. The club decorates the cupola with balloons, in honor of a distinguished visitor. Du Bois writes:

The ten miniature balloons around the base of the cupola had a combined lifting pull of six hundred pounds. The larger balloon attached to the top had a lifting pull of three hundred pounds. This made a total strain of nine hundred pounds. The cupola weighed a little over four hundred. Nothing unusual happened at first, but during the night, as the winds gently tossed the balloons back and forth, the cupola started to loosen somewhat like a loose tooth does.... At one-twenty-nine in the morning, it gently rose from its perch on the Explorers' Club and, dropping bits of plaster, spikes, and rivets, flew off eastward over the city.... It started losing altitude only after having had a nice flight of four and a half hours, and landed silently and gracefully in a peaceful little Indian Reservation which was situated in a snug valley between two huge mountains....

Now what do you suppose the Indians did?

Did they back away trembling with fear?


Did they shriek with fright?


Did they beat up the Medicine Man?

No. They gave the cupola and appraising look, then one of them said, "Huh! Dumb white man decorate Explorers' Club of San Francisco with too many baloons. Get hatchet. Cut door in United States between New York and San Francisco. This make good new house for Chief."