The 21 Balloons by William Pène du Bois

Type: Fiction
180 Pages
Published in the U.S.A by The Viking Press (1947)

Professor William Waterman Sherman intended to voyage around the world using a hot-air balloon. He left his hometown of San Francisco on 15 August 1883 in a balloon and began his voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

Days later, he landed on Krakatoa Island in Indonesia because his balloon burst. Professor Sherman discovered that there were no residents on Krakatoa but 20 families. He quickly befriended them. 

And it was not long before he learnt why the 20 families still remained on Krakatoa despite it being a very dangerous place to live in. There were constant threats from the volcano, but at the same time diamonds were in abundance on the island. The families shared the wealth with each other. But now that Professor Sherman had joined them on the island, they treated him like one of the family and he got a share of the diamonds, too.

The people of Krakatoa were well aware of the danger coming from the volcano. In fact they had invented a device to help them escape the island in case the volcano erupted. The device came in the form of a platform – wide enough to hold all 20 families – which will be flown into air by twenty balloons attached to it. The balloon platform was the fastest way to escape from the volcano eruption.

One day, the Krakatoa volcano began to show signs of eruption. The 20 families, including Professor Sherman, quickly climb aboard the balloon platform and flew away. As soon as they left, Krakatoa erupted and nothing were left of it. Not even the diamond mines were spared.

The people on board the balloon platform could not possibly live the rest of their lives on board it. So they had planned to jump off the platform when they passed through any land. Each of them had their own family parachute. Unfortunately, only Professor Sherman had no parachute. So the plan went like this: Professor Sherman will continue flying the balloon platform after all the families had jumped off. He is to land the platform on a water surface to prevent a violent crash on land.

Then, all the families jumped off the platform. Professor Sherman tried to land the platform when it flew over the Atlantic Sea, but he crashed nevertheless. The balloon platform was wrecked. However, he was lucky because the captain of a ship immediately saw him and rescued him.

In the end, Professor Sherman finally returned to San Francisco, full of ideas for more balloon voyages in the future.


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