The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont
written by Victoria Griffith; illustrated by Eva Montanari
2011 (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
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Alberto Santos-Dumont was a celebrity in 1903 Paris. He flew his dirigible around the French capital and easily outpaced the cars below. But Alberto was restless. As he explained to his friend, the jeweler Louis Cartier, he wanted flying machines to go faster and be more useful. For three years Alberto worked on a flying machine and was ready to unveil it in November 1906. Nearly a thousand people gathered at a field to see his new invention. An unexpected interloper by the name of Louis Bleriot was also there with his new flying machine. Being a gentleman and supremely confident, Santos-Dumont offered Bleriot the chance to go first. This was a huge risk for Alberto as he stood to lose the opportunity to be the first man to fly an airplane powered only by itself. Bleriot made three attempts and on the third one his airplane fell apart. Alberto started the engine on his plane and soon soared above the heads of the spectators. He managed to fly for twenty-one seconds before a hard landing. Alberto knew the time since he was wearing a new wristwatch created by Louis. Cheering spectators carried the new champion of flight on their shoulders. Alberto Santos-Dumont was the first man to take off in a plane using its own power.
The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont brings to light an historical figure previously unknown to me and I suspect many others. This book is a perfect example for students of how our understanding of history is subject to change. It is an interesting debate as to who actually invented the airplane. The Wright Brothers flew with the assistance of wind and a rail system while Santos-Dumont's airplane was self-powered and there are others who could possibly lay claim to being the first. This could be the subject for an research/opinion paper or a compare/contrast assignment in a classroom. Victoria Griffith's captivating text could also be used for a lesson on sequence. Students would describe Alberto's big day in a series of boxes filled with illustrations. It would be interesting to create a picture book unit on early flight featuring aviators such as the Wrights, Santos-Dumont, Elinor Smith, and Amelia Earhart.
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