When a new boy moves to the neighborhood, Dot introduces herself and asks if he wants to play. The boy, slump-shouldered and sad, declines. Dot wonders whether he’s sad because he didn’t want to move.
That night, the boy writes down a wish on a star—to “fly far far away and maybe never have to come back”—and ties the note to the string of a golden balloon, which lands outside Dot’s bedroom window. Dot reads the note, which also reveals that the boy’s name is Albert. Endeavoring to make Albert happy, Dot builds him a kite and, after finding another balloon note in which Albert wishes for a dog, gives him her favorite plush puppy. Albert brightens, but only momentarily.
Albert’s next note wishes that his dad “was here again” and “could come back.” Dot imagines what it would be like if her own father weren’t around. Her empathy makes her realize that her job isn’t to make Albert happy: “Sometimes, it’s okay to be sad. Sometimes, it’s the only thing we can do.” She decides to sit with Albert on a porch swing in his backyard, even amid long silences, until he’s ready to open up.
Author-illustrator Jonathan D. Voss employs a painterly style in The Wishing Balloons, an emotionally charged tale. His remarkably thick and textured brushstrokes, fuzzy forms and highly saturated colors give his artwork the appearance of memories or dreams: Specifics are blurry and emotions dominate. In the absence of sharp lines and distinct facial expressions, the characters’ body language conveys their feelings—particularly Albert’s overwhelming sadness.
Some lines of text as well as some illustrations are depicted as if on separate sheets of paper affixed to the page with torn pieces of tape. This technique, along with a textured, handwriting-style font, lends The Wishing Balloons the feel of a scrapbook of memories.
A story of loss and healing, The Wishing Balloons pulses with tenderness. It’s sure to prompt readers to consider extending their hand to anyone in need and to reflect on what true friendship really looks like.