The magic of balloons

posted in: Tim Hopgood | 12

One of the contributors to last week’s popular post 50+ picture books every child should be read was an author/illustrator much enjoyed in our home – Tim Hopgood. One of the very fist books I reviewed on Playing by the book was his award winning Here Come’s Frankie, which is still the book I pick up if I’m in a wonderful mood and feel like dancing, or a terrible mood and need cheering up. Our Big Blue Sofa, however, is probably one of my kids’ top 10 picture books (even if my review of it makes me cringe; who of you would display for all the world to see the detritus found down the back of your sofa!)

So when I saw that Tim had a new book out I knew it was something I would want to read and review here. UnPOPpable, published last month, captures all the joy and wonder a simple balloon can bring. Kids will love this book as they will recognise themselves in it – the delight at playing with a balloon, squeezing it, holding it, the loss but also awe as it floats up into the sky, and the magic and squealy delight that comes when the balloon finally does pop.

The story is told with just a few bare words on most pages making is an enjoyable book for even the youngest children to listen to (and great for slightly older siblings to read to their toddler brothers and sisters). As an adult reader it’s a really fun read-aloud – there are plenty of opportunities to get into the spirit of things with loud popping noises.

Tim Hopgood’s illustrations are exuberant; even those depicting the black night sky and space feel bright and vibrant, and without wishing to give anything away, the big bang finale is bursting with energy just as it must have been back when time began.

I hope you’ll find an opportunity to give this book to a child with a helium balloon – I guarantee you will make someone very happy indeed!

Inspired by UnPOPpable we got up to some good old fashioned play with balloons. The girls drew silly faces on them and then we rubbed the ballons on our hair to charge them with static electricity. Once charged we could stick our balloons pretty much anywhere we liked – on the walls and on the ceiling. It seemed like magic to the girls!

Taking the magic to the next level I challenged the girls to stick a knitting needle in a balloon without popping it. Of course balloons ended up popping left right and centre, but then Mummy stepped in with the sort of magic that only mummies possess, and sure enough, with the use of a magic spell I was able to stick a knitting needle all the way through a balloon without it popping.

Now, as long as you promise not to give the game away I will share the magic with you 😉

Blow your balloon up, but not too much – make sure there is still some slack in it around the knot. Get a long knitting needle and out of sight of your audience dip it in some cooking oil, and spread the oil up and down the needle. In front of your audience carefully, slowly stick your knitting needle into your balloon near the knot, where the rubber is relatively slack.

Moving confidently push the needle all the way through the balloon and out the other side – the relative slackness of your balloon and the oil on the needle should ensure that it does not pop despite you pushing a knitting needle all the way through. Your balloon may start to deflate (mine actually stayed inflated for about 30 minutes) – if it does so, talk loudly to cover the hissing noise of air escaping and then deliberately pop the balloon.

Here’s a video to give you a better idea of how this can work:

It’s a fun party trick and if you’re prepared in advance it’s a great way to make your kids think you really do possess magic powers – not a bad thing to have them believe!

Whilst we played with our balloons we listened to:

  • It only takes one night to make a balloon your friend by Lunch Money

  • Pop the Balloons from Jojo’s Circus

  • Red Balloon by Frances England

  • Grab a Balloon by Steve Lee (hear it free here)

  • Balloons from Skyboat which has this lovely video:

  • Other fun balloon activities include these:

  • Using balloons to make your toys fly – one of my favourite ever activities here on Playing by the book, when we used helium balloons to make playmobil people fly!

  • Making a balloon yo-yo with these instructions from Zakka Life

  • Sailing a balloon powered jet boat – instructions here from

  • Investigating centripetal force with a 5p coin inside a balloon – check out this video to see this fun project in action. A big thank you to @JennySarahJones for this idea and video link.

  • Enabling a balloon to blow itself up – put some yeast and warm water inside a balloon, tie a knot and watch the balloon expand as the yeast gets to work. Needs to be overseen by an adult or they’ll be popping everywhere 🙂 Thanks to children’s author @kathryniwhite for the tip!

  • What are your favourite balloon books and balloon activities?

    Disclosure: I received my copy of this book gratis from the publisher. This review, however, reflects my own and honest opinion.

    12 Responses

    1. Zoe

      Hi Susan,

      I don’t know that particular Mick Inkpen book – off to reserve it in the library now!
      Thanks for the tip.

    2. Andi

      I’ve always loved The Balloon Tree by Phoebe Gilman. It’s a fun story and the illustrations are fantastic.

      For a little balloon magic you can also put a piece of clear tape on a balloon and then push a pin in through the taped spot. The balloon will not pop. (I used to perform this “magic trick” when I was a kid!)

    3. Isil

      My daughter’s favorite toys are balloons and balls. I am sure she would love this book. Thanks for sharing Zoe.

    4. Julia Skinner

      I love balloons & have really enjoyed all the links you have given here!
      I have a space on my blog called the Resource Centere. It is where crafters meet teachers & share ideas & resources. I’d love it if you could visit & link some of your great ideas.I’m asking for requests from teachers for books that they need help with getting activities for.

    5. Kate

      Loving that balloon trick!
      (And what about adding “99 red balloons” to the playlist?)

      Kate x

    6. Zoe

      Hi Andi, Thanks for the book suggestion – will get it at the library!

      Even in Australia – yes, his real name I believe – super isn’t it!

      Isil – balloons and balls are great – infact when kids were too little for balls (not strong enough to through them) we would always use balloons instead.

      Thanks Julia for your first time comment – love the idea of the resource centre. Would love to contribute.

      Aah kate. 99 balloons gets mentioned here:
      Still love that song!

    7. Janelle

      My daughter likes Hot-Air Henry. It’s about a cat in a hot air balloon. — Different kind of balloon, I know, but that’s all I can think of at the moment. Oh, and there’s a nice red balloon that makes several appearances in the new Caldecott winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

      That knitting needle trick is pretty nifty!

    8. Zoe

      Hi Helen and Janelle, do try the knitting needle trick – it’s lots of fun! And Janelle, thanks for the tip about Hot-Air Henry,not a book I know but will look out for it.

    9. Valarie

      Hi Zoe, I love the balloon trick. Really great. One of our favorite balloon books is “You can’t take a balloon into the museum of Fine Arts.” By jacqueline Preiss and Robin Preiss Glasser. It’s a mother/daughter team who wrote it and it’s just wonderful.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    CommentLuv badge

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.