Ramona and I just finished reading The Twenty-One Balloons, which we both found delightful. Written and illustrated by William Pene du Bois in 1947, it won the Newbery Medal in 1948, and has endured to become a classic.
Set in 1883, the novel is part science, part fantasy, part light social commentary, and partly appealing to introverts ("As you know," says Professor William Waterman Sherman, near the beginning of the story, "I was a teacher of arithmetic for forty years. Forty years of being surrounded by a classroom of healthy prankish students. Forty years of spitballs. Forty years of glue on my seat, Sal Hepatica in my inkwell, and other devilish tricks. Long about my thirty-sixth year, I started yearning to be alone.")
Professor Sherman builds a fantastic balloon home in which he plans to travel around the world. (Cue the Jules Verne references! Cue Up talk, and Dug imitations!) The introduction tells us that Professor Sherman's travels will take him to the Pacific island of Krakatoa, and that he will somehow be involved in the volcanic explosion that really did take place in 1883. How did he end up there? And how did he escape?
Lots of unschoolish detours to take with this book -- the science of hot air balloons (though Ramona and I occasionally got a little bogged down in some of the descriptions of the inner workings), diamonds, mentions of the salt mines of Poland and the crystal caves of Bermuda, which had me sending Ramona to Google. Volcanos, the history and geography of Krakatoa ... plenty to talk about and explore on top of a good read. And it made us hungry! You'll have to read the book to find out why.
My favorite quote:
"It seems strange to me that mechanical progress always seems to leave the slower demands of elegance far behind. With all of the peace and spare time on this lovely island, why should any part of your lives be speeded up?"
I once took a hot air balloon ride and it was lovely. Now I just need to figure out how to get Ramona in a balloon one of these days. A quick Google check for companies and prices tells me that I'd better start the savings fund now. :)