Mathilda and the Orange Balloon, by Randall de Sève, illustrated by Jen Corace
(2010, Balzer + Bray, ISBN 978-0-06-172685-9)
Mathilda is a young sheep whose mundane world is suddenly changed by the appearance of an orange balloon that inspires Mathilda and her flock to imagine life beyond the ordinary.
Mathilda starts out as a perfectly content young sheep who is part of a perfectly ordinary flock on a perfectly ordinary farm. The appearance of an orange balloon that has apparently drifted away from a nearby carnival (you see a tent and some rides far in the background of one illustration) suddenly awakens her sense of wonder. The other sheep–who are older and more experienced–barely notice it, but Mathilda starts dreaming about being that orange balloon. The other sheep argue with her that she is not an orange balloon–she is just a sheep–but Mathilda wants to know the definitions of “balloon” and “orange” and is satisfied that she meets the requirements: round, ferocious, warm…and happy. As they watch Mathilda’s joyful imagination transform her, the other sheep soon realize that “anything [is] possible. Especially with an orange balloon like Mathilda.”
The illustrations by Jen Corace have a somewhat vintage feel…and I could imagine the characters in a line of whimsical greeting cards or nursery decor. (I know that description doesn’t do the artist justice, but I am clearly no student of art, so I often have a hard time putting into words the “feel” I get about illustrations!) Her sheep have exaggeratedly large, round bodies with comparatively small, rectangular heads and tiny, wide-set eyes. Mathilda stands out because she wears a bell around her neck and has a white face and rosy cheeks compared to the brown faces of the others. The sheep are surprisingly expressive for sheep; Mathilda in particular is partially anthropomorphized in some of her poses, but you can often tell their emotions just from their very sheepy faces. The background is excessively minimal, and several smaller images are often combined on one spread. Perspective and depth of the image change frequently to better convey the events and ideas of the text, and the pictures alone tell parts of the story that the words alone could never accomplish.
GirlChild’s Reaction: Doesn’t just looking at the cover of this book make you happy? GirlChild says her favorite illustration is the one with the “gray sheep, gray sheep” and Mathilda’s head poking up from amongst all the monotonous gray backs, but mine is definitely the one with Mathilda as the orange balloon on the “Happy” page. All throughout the book, however, just looking at Mathilda and reading about her irrepressible spirit (which sounds very dramatic, I know!) is uplifting and encouraging…even though I have no desire whatsoever to be an orange balloon. Definitely a cute book to read, but it would also be useful in a classroom to use when teaching metaphors and imagery.