In the early 1900’s, Alberto Santo-Dumont floated over Paris in his own flying machine for leisure and for errand-running. To test out his machine’s prowess, he raced against cars—and won! Alberto loved flying. He longed to invent the first completely self-propelled airplane though, believing it would change the world and bring peace to it. To help him keep time while flying, his good friend Louis Cartier invented a wrist watch for him three years before his big flight.
On a chilly, fall morning in 1906, Alberto prepared to show off his newly invented airplane to a crowd of nearly one thousand people. Even though engineers had been attempting this same feat for years, the people had confidence that Santos would succeed where they had not. Louis Bleriot, a fellow inventor, arrived for this demonstration with his newly invented airplane, hoping to beat Alberto into the air. Spectators silently watched as Santos walked over to his competitor. Being the gracious man he was, he deferred to Bleriot by allowing him the first opportunity to fly. Three failed attempts later, his machine crashed without ever getting off the ground.
Alberto started his engine and barreled down the field “in a burst of energy.” The crowd cheered as they watched in amazement as Alberto flew over head—higher and higher. Despite a hard landing and some damage to the plane, he rejoiced in being the first man to take off in a plane using its own power. Using his wrist watch to keep time, Alberto realized he had broken the speed record of his previous flying machine. He was celebrated throughout the world! Unfortunately, history nearly forgot Alberto Santo-Dumont, at least until now.
Victoria Griffith’s The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santo-Dumont is both captivating and informative. Like most people, I grew up with the belief that the Wright Brothers were the first men in flight. They rightly deserve a place in American and flight history. Alberto, according to the research provided in the book, had the first completely machine propelled plane. Apparently, the Wright Brother’s plane needed some assistance getting off the ground. Interestingly, Alberto and the people in Paris were not even aware of the Wright Brothers’ accomplishment which took place three years before the flight in France. There is more fascinating information in the extensive Author’s Note section of the book.
The skillfully written narrative brings history and Alberto to life. Griffith humanizes him by depicting his friendship with Cartier and his interactions with others while drawing him as a larger than life character floating around Paris and inventing flying machines. Eva Montanari has created remarkable illustrations in soft colors using paints and chalks that reflect the text and era well. I recommend The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santo-Dumont for ages 7 and up.
- Character: look closely at how Alberto interacts with the people in his life; what character qualities does he possess? give at least one detail from the story to support each quality
- Friendship: examine the friendship between Cartier and Alberto; what qualities should a good friend possess? which ones are depicted in their relationship?
- Purpose: discuss how Alberto’s desire to better the world drove him to invent the airplane; how has he succeeded? how has the airplane been used that would disappoint him?
- History: research and create a time line of aviation history
- Geography: identify Brazil and France on a globe; learn some basic facts about the countries such as capitals, climates, and terrains; compare/contrast with area child lives
- Compare/Contrast: research the life and accomplishments of the Wright Brothers or Louis Bleriot; compare and contrast to the life and accomplishments of Alberto Santos-Dumont
- Journal: write a journal entry from the perspective of one of the spectators or Alberto; what do they see? feel? think?