Sally's Great Balloon Adventure is the last in a series of books about a curious black Labrador retriever written and illustrated by
Stephen Huneck. If you know nothing else about Stephen Huneck before you read a Sally book, by the time you reach the last page you will know that he had a deep love and understanding of dogs. If you are not a dog person, don't stop reading just yet. As many people
who have had the pleasure of caring for dogs and toddlers (and young children) at the same time will tell you, there are a lot of similarities between the two. Kids get this and that is why they love these books and Sally. Dogs (and kids) follow their noses, whether it leads them into trouble
or not. They don't really have a firm grasp on right and wrong, good and bad, peace and destruction and sometimes they get into trouble and need a little help. And, ultimately, I think it is much more interesting to a child to read a book with an unintentionally misbehaving dog as the protagonist than it is to read a book about a little kid.
When Sally's family takes her to a hot air balloon festival as a special treat, they have no idea what they are in for. Smelling fried chicken in a picnic basket that is being loaded into a hot air balloon, Sally decides to investigate. A misplaced tug on a rope sends the balloon up into the air and the crowd below goes crazy. But not Sally. In one of my favorite pages in the book, Sally is resting with her nose right next to the picnic basket and the text reads, "Instead of being scared, Sally feels lucky to be alone with such delicious-smelling chicken." It is this dedication to the chicken that keeps Sally calm and safe throughout the ride until, drifting closer to the ground, her family's yells can reach her.
What are they saying? "Tug-of-war! Tug-of-war, Sally!" When she finally hears this, Sally jumps up and tugs at the rope that is hanging from the balloon. As the warm air escapes, the balloon descends and her ecstatic family and friends welcome her back to earth. Finding the picnic basket full of chicken, they take turns feeding it to her and the book ends with a full tummy and smile for Sally.
Stephen Huneck died in January of this year and, while his Sally books and his original artwork - mostly prints and carvings - will be popular for years to come, his greatest legacy is the Dog Chapel that he built entirely by hand on Dog Mountain, a dog park, in Vermont. Since it opened in 2000, visitors have brought their dogs to play on the grounds and taken solace inside the chapel, the walls of which are covered with notes and photos from dog owners who have lost a pet. A sign in front of the Dog Chapel reads, "Welcome: All Creeds, All Breeds, No Dogmas Allowed." For more information on his other life works and more pictures of the Dog Chapel, read my review of his last book, Even Bad Dogs Go to Heaven, which features Huneck's art work and photos of the Dog Chapel and is the perfect read for a bereaved pet owner or anyone who believes that dogs have a special place in human life.