Written and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
Puffin Books, 1983
Awards: Caldecott Medal
It all began one morning.
The plot in a nutshell: A man builds an airplane and flies it
Louis Blériot and his family go for a drive in their hometown of Cambrai, France, one morning in 1901. While driving, they see an airship and everyone is excited, since no one has ever seen one before. Louis starts to work on building a flying machine of his own. His first model, the Blériot I is very small and doesn’t fly. Next he builds a glider that lifts off and then crashes down. His next model has a motor and propeller, but it won’t take off. As the years go by, he learns more with each model and continues to improve until he has a working airplane. In 1909, Louis flies his Blériot XI across the English Channel in 37 minutes, winning the Daily Mail’s £1000 prize.
Alice and Martin Provensen truly worked as a team when they collaborated on picture books. I spent a long while trying to figure out which one did the writing and which one did the illustrations only to discover that they worked on both together, which is pretty admirable. They met in 1943, when they were both at Walter Lantz Studios working on training films for the US military, and were married a year later. (A fun fact that I found while learning about the Provensens is that Martin was the creator of Frosted Flakes mascot Tony the Tiger.)
I didn’t know anything about Louis Blériot before reading this book (perhaps because I grew up in North Carolina, where aviation is all about the Wright Brothers) and the book prompted me to learn more of his history and achievements, which are tremendously interesting. A note in the back of the book gives a little more information about him, including the fact that he invented the automobile headlight, which provided the money he used to build the aircrafts detailed in this book. The artwork has a really nice turn-of-the-century feel to it that combines with the historical setting and the storytelling format to make a book that feels almost like you’re reading a newsreel. A very interesting story that’s especially recommended for anyone with an interest in aviation or inventing.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there is something to be learned in every failed attempt and that is how you succeed.