Last night I lurked behind a clock in Paris, thanks to Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed new film Hugo, based on Brian Selznick’s wildly creative novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The entrancing vistas featuring the Eifel Tower, the city’s twinkling lights, and the dizzying tiers of iron stairways that support the massive timepiece swept me back to a magical era. While I approach cinematic versions of novels with a soupcon of skepticism, I can wholeheartedly recommend this one as worthy of its literary source.
For a fresh peek at an older Paris, pick up Victoria Griffith’s recent picture-book biography, The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont, which highlights the overlooked Brazilian inventor who was the first to lift off and land a completely self-propelled plane. (The Wrights’ 1903 airplane needed strong winds and even a rail system to send it aloft.) Alberto’s remarkable flight, which occurred November 12, 1906, outside Paris, is depicted with cheerful movement and intriguing perspectives in the pastel-and-oil paintings of Eva Montanari.
At first, we get to float over the city with Alberto in his dirigible, the inventor’s own unique and celebrated mode of transportation. Griffith’s story sparkles with Montanari’s double spreads bubbling with images of ladies’ elongated gowns, a wave of rushing horse-drawn carriages (no match for Alberto’s airship!), and the sidewalk cafes filled with coffee drinkers at little round marble-topped tables.
Alberto devotes the next three years to building a new and better flying machine. Touchingly, he envisions a world where his invention would mean the end of all wars. “Once people are able to fly to different countries, they will see how much we have in common. We will all be friends,” he tells a hat-shop attendant in the book.
If only that vision had prevailed. Instead, others would get credit for inventing the airplane and then profit from its use for warfare, as Griffiths explains in her note, accompanied by vintage photos of Alberto Santos-Dumont and his inventions.
For a child (ages 7 to 10) with a taste for reality, this biography is just the ticket.
Related Articles: Parents’ Choice Award for The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont.