Thursday, November 24, 2011

Balloons Over Broadway

The Tony Sarg Marionette Book

"The First Circus" (1921), animation from Tony Sarg's "Almanac" series, which employed shadow silhouette.

Did you ever hear of Tony Sarg?  I didn't. He was an immigrant from Germany who was skilled with marionettes, animation, and illustration.The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade started in 1924 and initially included live zoo animals. Sarg later put his prodigious skills as a puppeteer to work when the animals were replaced by balloons in the Parade. 

His story is told in Caldecott Honor Winner Melissa Sweet's Balloons over Broadway, just published on November 1. It's meant for ages 4 through 8 according to one source, but to me it seems the story and the illustrations should appeal to all age groups, and I think ages 4 and up might be reasonable. This wonderful book seems to be a valuable addition to the lore of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and it should generate annual interest.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Available November 1, 2011. ages 4 [and up].

Marionette Man

The chicken coop sketch--shades of Rube Goldberg? 
"The chickens ate their breakfast. Tony stayed snug in his bed."

Notes on Toys
"My writing looks like lists and doodles until the very end when I write it out on the computer." --Melissa Sweet

Designing Macy's Puppet Parade

R. H. Macy's first parade in 1924 included live animals. They would later be replaced by the incredible balloons. 

Creating the Balloons Sketch
"An early sketch in Tony Sarg's studio where they puppeteers are figuring out how to make the inflatable animals."
--Melissa Sweet

Melissa Sweet has a fascinating collage technique.

Elephant Balloon
"This was the perfect place to have a spread that had to be turned, just like the 'upside down marionettes' rising up."
--Melissa Sweet

Image added February 26, 2012

"Sometimes I have to play with pictures to find the words, so I'll make a collage to get warmed up." --Melissa Sweet

Nodding and waving to the crowds below, they sailed past Central Park. 
They sallied down Broadway.
They shimmied and swayed through the canyons of New York City.
Image added February 25, 2012

It was a parade New Yorkers would never forget!
Image added February 25, 2012

Melissa Sweet, Poster for the 85th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The good people at Macy's must be floating on air over this book. They should be delighted too with Ms. Sweet's animated poster for this year's parade.

Melissa Sweet, Rough sketch for Balloons over Broadway. 9.5" x 6.5", watercolor and collage sketch
From: "Balloons Over Broadway"
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct. 2011.
From the flickr photostream of Banned Books Week Online Auctions.
The corresponding published page
Image added October 29, 2013

Image added February 25, 2012

Image added Febrauary 25, 2012

My copy of Balloons Over Broadway, signed and embellished by Ms. Sweet on November 26, 2011 at Books of Wonder.
Added to post on November 28, 2011

Melissa Sweet

"Announcing the arrival of Tony Sarg's new and fascinating balloon creations."
Balloons were first introduced by Sarg in the 1927 Macy's parade.

 Felix the Cat in 1927

Andy the Alligator Balloon

Tony Sarg, 1920's, in the Goodyear hanger. "Airfilled."
Elephant Balloon, 1927

Tony Sarg looking up at the Sultan balloon Bil Baird is painting. Baird, of course, went on to many achievements in puppetry, perhaps most famously "The Lonely Goatherd" sequence from the film version of The Sound of Music (1965).


  1. Today was the first time I had heard of Tony Sarg. Thanks for posting this delightful insight into his work.

    1. You're very welcome, kk, and thanks for your comment. Tony Sarg was a fairly well-known puppeteer and illustrator, but he was unknown to me until Melissa Sweet created this wonderful children's book.