Monday, 12 December 2011

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Albert Santos-Dumont

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffith, illustrated by Eva Montanari (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
HB RRP $16.95 US
ISBN 9 781419 700118
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Scant knowledge of flight history had me believing that the Wright Brothers were the first to fly a plane. It seems, however, it’s not all that simple. Their first flight required their plane to be pushed before it could ascend. All sorts of people were hoping to be the first to get a self-propelled plane into the sky and one of the most famous was a Brazilian living in Paris who, believe it or not, did his errands by airship. He was the first to achieve his goal.


This picture book for children aged 6-10 portrays Alberto as a man of quirky personality who flew a dirigible over Paris to run errands. He “sometimes tethered his flying machine to a lamppost in front of a fashionable cafĂ© and asked the waiters to send him up a glass of champagne or coffee." As the son of a wealthy plantation owner, Alberto had the financial backing needed to pursue his project.


The visual portrayal, in rich, smudgy oils and pastels, gives readers a feel for Paris of 1906, its people and the excitement that went with events. End note photos of Alberto and his dirigible over the Eiffel Tower are nice for readers but the illustrations that capture the feel of the time, the pursuit of the dream, Alberto’s success and everyone’s response will give great perspective and much delight.


The book intersperses Albert’s story with that of history and some quirky elements are revealed. For example, in his wish to always time his journeys, Albert Santos-Dumont asked his jeweller friend Louis Cartier to make it easier for him to clock flight times, saying a fob watch was too fiddly. Louis presented him with the first male wristwatch. A Cartier watch called the Santos is still available today.


The story also shows Alberto with his hat maker, expressing his belief that "once people are able to fly to different countries, they will see how much we have in common. We will all be friends." While he was the first man to take off in a self-propelled plane, end notes tell how Alberto’s wish for world peace was dashed when he saw that planes were used in war. Sadly, he took his own life.

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