May 25, 2017

Lighter than Air by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:39 pm by suebe2

Lighter than Air
by Matthew Clark Smith
illustrated by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press

Sophie Blanchard was the first woman to pilot her own balloon.  When she was a girl in late 18th century France, “balloonomania” gripped the nation.  In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers had ridden their balloon high into the sky and above the roofs of Paris.  People were so crazy for balloons that women wore balloon shaped hats and balloon shaped bustles.  The plates that people ate dinner on were decorated with pictures of balloons.

The most famous balloonist was Jean-Pierre Blanchard.  He was a daredevil who ballooned across the English Channel.  He and his partner finished the journey so low that they tossed everything they didn’t need overboard, including their trousers!

Sophie read everything she could on Blanchard.  All of the balloonists were men. People believed that women were too weak to brave the cold temperatures and thin air faced by balloonists.  When she attended one of Blanchard’s events, he asked her if she liked the balloon.  She confidently informed him that she belonged in a balloon.  That was just the beginning and before long they were married and he taught her all he knew.

By 1805, Sophie was going up alone.  But flying could be dangerous and Jean-Pierre fell from his balloon when he had a heart attack.  It took some time before Sophie was up in the air but she became the first woman pilot. She was daring and often went up in a “basket” that was hardly bigger than a chair. She soared over the Alps and once went up so high that she fainted from lack of oxygen. Sophie’s balloon soared high above the people who would put limits on women.

Matt Tavares colored his ink drawing with watercolors to create images that are light and dreamy as a balloon flight but also detailed enough to pull the reader into the story.  They compliment Smith’s text which covers much of what is known about Blanchard.  Although her career as a balloonist appeared in the newspapers, her early life and motivations did not.

This book is long for the preschool set but grade school aged readers who are interested in flight or history will be hooked.  Share this book with any young reader who is pushing boundaries.   Be ready to look up images of modern balloons to compare with Tavares detailed depictions of historic balloons – much has changed over the years both in the creation of balloons and in those who fly them.



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