Even Thanksgiving, that most American of holiday’s, is a melting pot of celebrations. Some will eat turkey at grandmother’s house, others fish at a restaurant and some Chinese food ordered in. Some of us will play football, some will watch it on TV and others will head to the movies. No matter how you celebrate, the following titles will bring new and delightful insight to this long-standing tradition.
“Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade” is written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Tony Sarg first demonstrated his ingenuity as a child when his father asked him to feed the chickens. Preferring to sleep in, Tony rigged pulleys and ran rope out to the chicken coop door spreading feed on the other side. The next morning, the alarm went off, Tony pulled on the rope, the coop door opened, the chickens had their breakfast and “Tony stayed snug in his bed.” As an adult, he turned that genius towards making marionettes whose “movements were so lifelike that they performed as if they were real actors.” His fame grew and Macy’s Department Store asked him to develop a “‘puppet parade,’ first for the store’s holiday windows,” and then an actual one, for the employees whose holiday traditions included “music and dancing in the streets.” Sarg “made costumes and built horse-drawn floats,” even animals from the zoo were included and it was such a success, it was made an annual event. One year, the addition of lions and tigers frightened so many small children that Tony was charged with replacing live animals with something spectacular. The rest, as they say was history and the Macy’s parade floats were born! Melissa Sweet’s art is the perfect accompaniment for the biography of a puppeteer. It’s a mixture of traditional drawing, collage and, in the spirit of play that was the embodiment of Tony Sarg, photographs of actual toys. Every page is to be devoured, but my favorite follows the two page spread where he figures out how to make the balloons float, allowing even those at the back of the crowd to enjoy them. Readers turn the page and then the book because the entire 22 inches is filled with a blue elephant, bouncing above the crowds with a single line of text “...and the magnificent upside-down marionettes rose up to the skies!”
“Thank you Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving” written by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Matt Faulkner begins with a capitalized news flash, “we almost lost...Thanksgiving!” The accompanying illustration is laugh out loud funny. Highlights include a horrified adult male, sitting across from a television that declares, “Thanksgiving cancelled. No football today.” A finger-pointing turkey laughs from the top of the TV, another has it’s hands folded in gratitude and a linebacker-sized football player stands openly weeping. Luckily, a superhero came along. Sarah Hale fought for many things: “playgrounds for kids, schools for girls, and historical monuments for everyone.” She’s best known, however, for writing a little ditty entitled, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Anderson explains that Hale could do so many things because “she had a secret weapon...a pen” and she wasn’t afraid to use it whenever she saw something she didn’t like. So “when folks started to ignore Thanksgiving, well, that just curdled her gravy.” Hale’s efforts led women everyone to take up the cause and one by one, states officially made Thanksgiving a holiday. However, Sarah felt strongly that the whole country should celebrate together, “like a family.” She wrote and was rejected by five different presidents, until finally, President Lincoln said yes, making Thanksgiving the holiday we celebrate today.
Originally published in the 11/19/12 Free Lance-Star newspaper.