My Red Balloon by Kazuaki Yamada

What begins as a simple bus ride for a girl and her red balloon quickly turns into a mini adventure when she accidentally allows her red balloon to float out of the purposefully open-topped bus.

As the helpful driver diligently chases behind the balloon — which seems to conveniently overlap with the bus route — he also stops along the way to pick up some quirky, vaguely anthropomorphised animal passengers (a bear, a rabbit, a penguin, an elephant and a giraffe) who all help to look for the balloon.

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The spare, childlike illustrations in warm, muted tones lend a surreal calmness to the journey, even when *spoiler* disaster strikes. I also like how the illustrations alternate between zooming in each time a new passenger joins the fray, and zooming out to show the little yellow bus amidst the wide, open landscape, as well as, of course, the wherabouts of the elusive balloon (which incidentally also makes for a great ‘I Spy’ side activity!). There are also cute details like the special bus-stop signs for each animal that are fun to look out for.

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Whilst the ending is somewhat bittersweet, it ties up the story on a hopeful note that leaves a lasting impression. Originally published in Japanese, this charming picture book will no doubt get little ones dreaming of magical road trips of their own.

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