© 2019 JOSEPH TAYLOR

    Q&A Regarding 'Flying Balloons:

    The Story of the Montgolfier Brothers'

    (Cricket, April 2008)

    How did you first come to the Montgolfier story and what about it appealed to you?

     

    The idea to write a true story involving hot air balloons first came to me in the middle of the night, if you can believe it. When I followed up with some research, I was amazed to learn about the Montgolfier brothers and all they had achieved. It’s hard to imagine a time when people were not only unable to fly but didn’t even believe it to be possible. Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier changed that, forever.  

    The two brothers were remarkable in their own ways, weren’t they?

     

    Yes, they complemented one another and had the good sense to know how fortunate they were. Joseph had a great imagination and mechanical ability, while Étienne worked well with people and had the tenacity to see projects through. Some might say one had his “head in the clouds” while the other was grounded. The invention required both elements, and, as partners working together, they were able to deliver both.

    Here I'm standing inside the envelope of a hot air balloon after it had been inflated but before the air had been heated, just before my first hot air balloon flight, in 2004.

    Have you had the chance to go up in a hot air balloon?

     

    Yes, as part of my research for this story, I took a flight in a hot air balloon, or montgolfière as they’re still called, for about 75 minutes at sunset. (See the photo above.) It was a fantastic experience. Since I’m afraid of heights, the first five minutes were a bit tense, but after that I felt one with the basket and enjoyed myself. More recently, I took my partner on his first balloon flight for his birthday, and he was grinning the whole time. Both experiences were wondrous, and I’d recommend everyone try it sometime, with an experienced pilot, of course.

    “It’s hard to imagine a time when people were not only unable to fly but didn’t even believe it to be possible. Joseph and Étienne Montgolfier changed that, forever.”

    Have you had the chance to go up in a hot air balloon?

     

    Yes, as part of my research for this story, I took a flight in a hot air balloon, or montgolfière as they’re still called, for about 75 minutes at sunset. (See the photo above.) It was a fantastic experience. Since I’m afraid of heights, the first five minutes were a bit tense, but after that I felt one with the basket and enjoyed myself. More recently, I took my partner on his first balloon flight for his birthday, and he was grinning the whole time. Both experiences were wondrous, and I’d recommend everyone try it sometime, with an experienced pilot, of course.

    How was the experience of publication for you?

     

    That too was a great experience, as “Flying Balloons” represented the first time something I’d written for kids was published. I wasn't told ahead of time that my story had been chosen for the cover illustration, so you can imagine how gratified I was when I saw Stephen Costanza’s incredibly imaginative cover art. I also loved John Bobbish’s wonderfully energetic, impressionistic art that accompanied my piece. Sadly, John passed away from a heart attack a few months after its publication, but I had been able to tell him, and his sister Sandra since, how much his artwork meant to me. Though I'd worked on the piece for years, I didn’t connect it to my own childhood until I saw John’s opening illustration of one brother helping the other during a jump. My brothers and sister and I, pretending to be bionic, did quite a bit of that ourselves when we were kids.

    How can someone learn more about the Montgolfier brothers?

     

    I found it tricky to find reliable sources on the subject, as basic information about the Montgolfier brothers and their invention has not always been reported consistently over the years. Two of the best books I came across that used primary sources were Charles Coulston Gillispie’s The Montgolfier Brothers and the Invention of Aviation, 1783-1784 (Princeton University Press, 1983) and Pierre-Louis Clements’ Les Montgolfières (Tardy, 1982), both of which are academic works. A more general introduction suitable for middle-grade kids is a video that I discovered after my piece came out called “The Montgolfier Brothers and the Hot-air Balloon,” from Neanderpeople’s Great Milestones in Science & Technology series, available at their website

    March 24, 2015