This post goes towards It’s Monday What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA at Teach Mentor Texts , for It’s Monday What are You Reading? at Book Date and for the Ultimate Blogging Challenge as well as Just Jot It January. The book ‘The Twenty-One Balloons’ goes towards my own Reading by the Month challenge and the Old School KidLit Challenge while the short story pick ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz’ goes towards the Short Story Reading Challenge – Deal Me in 2018. If you want to join in with me on my reading challenge, click here to join in! Pure gems, both of these, diamonds literally!
So I had picked out the book ‘The Twenty-One Balloons’ as my read for January for my own reading challenge a while back. This book has been in my home library for a while now and I initially picked it up a Friends of the Library sale solely based on the cover illustration, and the Newbery Medal reference (my past experience with any Newbery award winner has always been great). And, just yesterday, I finally started reading it. And by the weirdest of coincidences (I kid you not), the short story I had picked for my Deal Me in Challenge (draw of the cards, literally), was one titled ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz’. If you have not read either of them, then you might not know this weird coincidence I am talking about..
Here is what du Bois writes in the Author’s Note for his book ‘The Twenty-One Balloons’:
Just before publication of The Twenty-One Balloons, my publishers noted a strong resemblance between my book and a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald entitled “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” published by Charles Scribner’s Sons. I read this story immediately and discovered to my horror that it was not only quite similar as to general plot, but was also altogether a collection of very similar ideas. This was the first I had heard of the F. Scott Fitzgerald story and I can only explain the embarrassing and, to me, maddening coincidence by a firm belief that the problem of making good use of the discovery of a fabulous amount of diamonds suggests but one obvious solution, which is secrecy. The fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald and I apparently would spend our billions in like ways right down to being dumped from bed into a bathtub is altogether, quite frankly, beyond my explanation.
William Pene du Bois
January 16, 1947
I read the Author’s Note after reading the book but noted the similarities to the two stories I was reading back to back within a few pages of the book, and wondered to myself what a coincidence it was! Of all the stories in the world, these were the two I picked to read, almost together, totally unintentionally, and that coincidence, is quite frankly, beyond my explanation!! That said, here are my reviews of the two.
The Twenty-One Balloons: This book is a quick read, I finished it in one sitting (and thanked everyone at home for their patience while they waited for me to join them for family TV time!). This is a book where fantasy, invention, reality, imagination, eccentricity, perfection, humor and more are all woven together seamlessly.
Professor Sherman, the unlikely hero of this children’s book, has been teaching arithmetic for forty years. Forty years of enough already, and he has decided he needs solitude, and how best to get it than by flying around the world in a furnished, fully-equipped balloon all by himself (and my Jules Verne loving, DIY loving heart loved this). He departs from San Francisco in the ‘Globe’, his balloon and starts his flight over the Pacific. But nature has other plans for him in the form of a seagull! He ends up on the ‘deserted’ island of Krakatoa (geography-alert!), which of course is inhabited and governed by the wonderful Gourmet Government (the foodie in me loved this). As he moves from B-day to D-day, learning about the island and its 80 citizens, he is fascinated by their inventions, their ingenuity, their play, their teamwork. This sounds like paradise (location, location, location!) but then timing matters too. And he landed there three days prior to that historic eruption in Krakatoa (which is real). So after three days of bliss, where readers can revel in and enjoy all that utopian, fantastical Krakatoa has to offer, we all bid goodbye to the island, and find Professor Sherman floating in the Atlantic ocean, along with twenty balloons….
Truly a delightful read, an adventure indeed!
Reading Level: Ages 8 – 12
Reread Level: 4.5/5 (for me)
Now on to the short story
The Card: 2 of Spades
The Selection: The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by Scott Fitzgerald – in his collection ‘Tales from the Jazz Age’.
Here is the goodreads description (part of it!): Although this novella stands out from his body of work in that it’s a playful yet sinister fairy tale, it brilliantly fuses F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ongoing lush fantasies about the extremes of wealth with his much more somber understanding of what underpins it. Loosely inspired by a summer he spent as a teenager working on a ranch in Montana, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz is Fitzgerald’s hallucinatory paean to the American West and all its promises.
My thoughts: Though this story has many similarities to ‘The Twenty-One Balloons’, as mentioned by du Bois himself in his book, this short story is more like a darker, mirror image written more as a satiric parable for adults when compared to du Bois’ book (which is a happier, lighter version). But it makes for great reading, just like the book (you can read it here).
How do you hide a diamond mountain? Well, Percy Washington and his family have learned how to, and have been keeping it secret for years now. In this sinister secret world, arrives John Unger, whom Percy befriends at school. John finds himself fascinated by the opulent wealth and he moves from a self-indulgent, overly-sugared-dream-like world to being in someone’s (Well, his own) nightmare.
How wealth blinds, makes shallow shells of people, and imprisons (the book also makes references to how the people find themselves unable and unwilling to leave their island of wealth, and prefer to lead their almost isolated lives instead) seemed to me the takeaway from this story. Slavery, imprisonment, the garish expenses at the cost of humanity, and other antiquated biases make the reader feel more (of everything they feel as they read) in these pages.