The Big Balloon Race by Eleanor Coerr, Illustrated by Carolyn Croll
It is 1882. Horses, buggies, and wagons are common forms of transportation. Large crowds turn out to watch balloon races. The huge balloons are filled with hydrogen gas. Carlotta the Great is the best female aeronaut (balloon pilot) in America.
On the morning of a big race, Ariel asks her mother, Carlotta, if she can ride in the balloon too. Carlotta says no, that racing a balloon is hard work, and that Ariel is too young. Ariel will need to ride with her father in the buggy to the finish line.
When the family arrives at the race site, there is a big crowd. Many balloons are being inflated for the race. The mayor gives a speech. Carlotta tells Ariel that she can wait in the balloon basket until it is time for the race to begin. Ariel climbs in and grows sleepy as the mayor talks on and on. When Ariel wakes up, the balloon is in the air, and the race is on.
The balloon can’t go as fast as it usually goes, and sinks in a draft, scraping treetops.
“Can we go higher?” asked Ariel.
“The balloon and ballast are for only one passenger,” said Carlotta. “You are extra weight.”
Carlotta empties sand over the side, and the balloon rises. They have a few adventurous moments – being pulled in an updraft into a raincloud, sailing low over a town, and narrowly missing a steeple. Finally they see the lake and the finish line on the other side. Carlotta catches a good wind that blows them over the lake. However, the gas in the balloon begins to cool and the balloon sinks. Carlotta and Ariel throw everything out of the basket that they can, but the balloon still sinks. Their basket lands in the lake, with the balloon floating above.
“We lost the race,” cried Ariel, “and it is all my fault. I am extra weight.”
Ariel knew what she had to do. She held her nose and jumped into the lake. The water was only up to her waist.”
Carlotta is surprised, and tells Ariel that was brave. But, the basket is too wet and heavy for the balloon to lift, even without Ariel. As another balloon appears and begins to descend, Carlotta throws Ariel a rope and Ariel pulls the basket and balloon to shore. They win the race.
“Carlotta hugged Ariel.
“I’m proud of you, too,” she said.
“Perhaps you are old enough to fly.”
Ariel smiled happily.
She was sure of it.”
This story is based on the lives of the Myers family of Balloon Farm in Mohawk Valley, New York. Carl Myers was an inventor and balloon maker. Carlotta was an expert balloonist in America in the 1880’s. Their daughter, Ariel, became a balloonist, too.
This is a fun story with strong female characters. My daughter loved hearing and reading this story frequently. The Big Balloon Race is an I Can Read Book, Level 3.