I simply love reading picture nonfiction books that are more storybookish than just-the-facts-ma’am in nature. (I’m sure there’s a proper term for this, but I’m drawing a blank.) The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffith is just one such book, and it absolutely excels at capturing the imaginations of its readers from the first page:
Alberto Santos-Dumont loved floating above Paris in his own personal flying machine. It had helped make him one of the most famous men in the city, if not the world! Everyone, he thought, should have this much fun running a simple errand!
It turns out that Alberto Santos-Dumont’s interest evolved from dirigibles to a conveyance that can travel against the wind, and so he became the first man to publicly fly a plane in 1906. (According to the detailed Author Note to this story, the Wright brothers’ 1903 Kitty Hawk venture was not widely-known in Europe, and who did exactly what first is up for debate.) This book chronicles both Alberto’s inspiration for improving upon his dirigible and the spirit of competition between these fathers of aviation. Louis Cartier, the famous watchmaker, makes an appearance in this story as a friend of Alberto’s and the inventor who helped him solve the problem of a hands-free method for checking the time by inventing the wristwatch. (In fact, the Cartier Santos wristwatch is named after the flamboyant aviator.) Louis Blériot appears as a rival inventor determined to best Alberto. Alberto, ever the gentleman and more interested in the science of his craft than the business of it, allows Blériot to take off first in the test run. Of course, Blériot’s plane falls apart after several failed attempts at lift-off. Alberto then makes the first flight in a plane that takes off of its own power. This story, paired with the colorful and evocative illustrations by Eva Montanari, is suspenseful and exciting. My girls and I really enjoyed it. (In fact, they’re hounding me for it even as I write this review!) Highly Recommended. (Abrams, 2011)
Naturally, after reading The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont, we had to go find our copy of The Glorious Flight by the Provensens and read all about Papa Blériot’s inventions. (This is an old favorite.) We were especially tickled to recollect the part at the beginning of the story where Papa Blériot crashes the family car into a farm wagon because he is so distracted by a dirigible flying above the Parisian sky. Could it have been Alberto Santos-Dumont? Another tie-in is Balloons over Broadway by Melissa Sweet, the wonderful picture book which details Tony Sarg’s balloon-engineering that made the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade what it is today. (I really, really love this book, so go ahead and click the link. You won’t regret it!) If you’re of the unit study persuasion, these books just beg to be read together. If, like me, you just like to chase rabbit trails sometimes, I’ve done a bit of the work for you.
I just love picture books, don’t you?
Many, many thanks to the author, Victoria Griffith, for emailing me to offer this book for review. She sent the recently-released audiobook along with the picture book, and I know they’re both going to be enjoyed around here for years to come. Other than a copy of the book itself, I received no compensation for this honest review.
- Author website
- Illustrator website
- Review at A Fuse #8 Production
- Review at Bookends, A Booklist Blog