New children’s book about famed puppeteer Tony Sarg draws on UConn puppetry expertise

Children’s book author and illustrator Melissa Sweet drew on UConn puppetry sources for her  celebrated new children’s book Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, which chronicles the story of legendary American puppeteer Tony Sarg and his 1920s invention of the inflatable puppets for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades.

Sweet, who did much of her research for the book at the The Nantucket Historical Association, the home of a large Tony Sarg collection, conferred with both Puppet Arts head Bart Roccoberton and Ballard Institute director John Bell to better understand Sarg’s innovative work from a puppeteer’s perspective.  Sarg, the most innovative and influential American puppeteer in the first half of the 20th century, was designing store windows and newspaper advertisements for Macy’s when the company asked him to create puppets for a new concept: a Thanksgiving Day parade.  Sarg’s designs for giant inflatable puppets have made the parade one of the most popular public spectacles in modern culture.

With captivating drawings and collages Sweet patiently and clearly tells the story of how Sarg’s experience with string marionettes allowed him to make a creative and conceptual leap to a new art form: helium-filled inflatable puppets operated from below–in other words, upside-down marionettes.  Sweet’s book has received glowing reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and from New York Times Book Review critic Pete Hamill, who wrote that Sweet’s “brilliant combination of collage, design, illustration and text gives Balloons Over Broadway an amazing richness,” adding that no one who reads the book “will ever see the parade in the same way.”