This book rose above my expectations to soar into my all-time favourite non-fiction picture books.

Title: A Voyage in the Clouds – The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785
Author: Matthew Olshan
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Rating: 10
Readability: 10
Raincoast Books for review

Description from Goodreads:

In the year and a half since the flight of the first manned balloon in 1783, an Italian has flown, a Scot has flown, a woman has flown, even a sheep has flown. But no one has flown from one country to another. John Jeffries, an Englishman, and his pilot, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a Frenchman, want to be the first. On January 7, 1785, they set out to cross the English Channel to France in a balloon.

All seemed to be going fine, until Jeffries decides the balloon looks too fat and adjusts the air valve—how hard could it be? Too bad he drops the wrench over the side of the aerial car. With no way to adjust the valve, the balloon begins to sink. Jeffries and Blanchard throw as much as they can overboard—until there is nothing left, not even their clothes. Luckily, they come up with a clever (and surprising) solution that saves the day.

A VOYAGE IN THE CLOUDS is a journey that will keep kids laughing the whole way.


What I Thought:

What a completely adorable and laugh-out-loud hilarious book.

Matthew Olshan’s writing is pithy and captivating, and Sophie Blackall’s illustrations are quaint and beautiful.

The timing of the text is superb, with a nice quick pace that keeps the story floating along perfectly. The speech bubbles are comical both in style and humour. The tones and style of the pictures are a vintage-inspired treasure.

I read this book first to myself, and sat there giggling through the entire thing, eliciting several quizzical looks from my husband. “It’s hilarious! I love it!” may have been shouted once or twice.

I adore that this is a “mostly true” story, since it not only teaches us what happened, but teaches us how to use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. This would make a fabulous book for a classroom unit on flight.

Spoiler alert: I LOVE when “mostly true” books make me run to the internet to see which parts are fact and which are fiction. I was delighted to discover that they did in fact both pee over the side of the balloon in order to lighten the load. Totally delighted.



I got a little sucked into learning about ballooning, so bear with me as I share some crazy stuff:

King Louis XVI originally decreed that the first pilots of hot air balloons should be condemned criminals, (I’m assuming because it wouldn’t matter if they died.)

Jean-Pierre Blanchard, our hero, died from his injuries after suffering a heart attack while in a hot air balloon and falling out. His widow, Sophie Blanchard, who had always been a ballooner herself, took up the family trade until it killed her too. She actually died because she set off fireworks which ignited the gas in her balloon, which caused her to crash into a roof, which caused her to fall to her death.

John Jeffries lived to the ripe old age of 74, dying from a strangled hernia.

Check out their adventures!

Jean-Pierre Blanchard
Sophie Blanchard
John Jeffries



An aeronautical masterpiece, sure to float its way into your heart.