The Twenty-One Balloons

Written and Illustrated by: William Pene du Bois

For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about The Twenty-One Balloons and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!

Spoiler Alert! The summary below contains spoilers about the plot that your child might not want to read until after finishing the book. 



When going on a journey, some want to get to their destination as quickly as possible while others prefer to travel leisurely, enjoying the ride. Professor Sherman would fall under the latter category. After years of teaching, he decides to take a year off and travel the world in a hot air balloon. The world takes notice when he departs from San Francisco, only to be discovered drifting in the Atlantic Ocean a short three weeks later. On his trip, his balloon comes crashing down and he finds himself on a supposedly deserted island. He discovers a peculiar society where each person is renamed after a letter of the alphabet and they adhere to a completely different calendar that dictates their actions on each particular day. He and the rest of the islands inhabitants are forced off of the island after a massive volcanic eruptions occurs. While he didn't get the peaceful trip that he was expecting, it definitely was the adventure of a lifetime. 


Pre-Reading Activities

K-W-L Chart

Create a K-W-L Chart and have your child fill in the first two columns with information that s/he knows and wants to find out about the story. S/he can fill in the last column, "What I Learned", once s/he has finished the story.

What I Know

In the "What I Know" section, let him/her think about what things s/he already knows about the subject matter, answering questions like, "Who is the main character of the story? Why is he going on this trip? What is so peculiar about how he is found?"

What I Want to Know

Include questions like, "Why is Professor Sherman found with twenty hot air balloons? How did he end up in the wrong ocean? What did he see on his journey?"

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 4.50.30 PM.png


Maintain Character List

Encourage your child to take brief notes on the story's characters. Write down their names, descriptions of their personality, and any particular events that they take part in. These notes will come in handy for the Hot Seat activity listed below.

 Discussion Questions

  1. Share with me what you liked (and didn’t like) about this book. What were your favorite and least-favorite parts?
  2. What are the two types of journey addressed in the beginning of the story? Which do you prefer? Why? Why did Professor Sherman choose to travel in a hot air balloon? 
  3. What are some unusual characteristics of the culture of Krakatoa (ex. calendar, architecture)?
  4. How does its culture reflect an ideal community? What do you think could be improved or changed there? Why?
  5. If you were in Sherman’s position, how would you have reacted to the culture of Krakatoa? Do you like or dislike how they chose to run their island?
  6. If you could create your own style of house, what would it be? Would it be from a specific country or time period? 
  7. How can the people of Krakatoa afford to live such extravagant lives on this island? How do they get their supplies? 
  8. Extended Learning: The amazing island of Krakatoa gives readers a miniature tour around the world, from France to Turkey to China. Take advantage of these different examples of culture to research famous buildings and cuisines. Some examples of architecture represented on the island include the Petit Trianon, the Shepheard’s Hotel, and Mount Vernon. Try your hand at making some of the specialties of the Krakatoan calendar, like Dutch cocoa or a traditional British breakfast.
  9. Hot Seat Activity: Take on the identity of different characters in the story, donning similar clothing items and take turns asking questions about certain decisions, motives and behaviors. Here are some possible props and questions:
    • Mr. F (bowler hat, French pastry, and beret): Why did you move to Krakatoa? What will you do//where will you live after leaving the island? Why?
    • Mayor/Captain (balloon, glass of water, key to the city, ship's log, cap): How do you feel about Sherman's reluctance to tell you about his adventures? What would you have done in his place?
    • Professor Sherman ("diamond" cufflinks, balloons, arithmetic textbook): If you could repeat your journey, what would you have done differently? Do you think the Krakatoan form of government could or should be applied elsewhere? Why or why not? What will you do on your next journey?