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  • The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont
  • Elizabeth Bush
Griffith, Victoria. The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont; illus. by Eva Montanari. Abrams, 2011. 32p. ISBN 978-1-4197-0011-8 $16.95 R Gr. 3–5.

Griffith zooms in on several episodes from the eventful life of historical Brazilian aeronaut/aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. Readers meet him as he runs errands [End Page 81] throughout Paris in his dirigible, tethering it to posts or allowing tradesmen to hold the line while he shops. On one outing he meets with friend and renowned jeweler Louis Cartier, who took to heart his complaints about the difficulty of checking a timepiece when both hands are occupied flying the dirigible. Voila! The first men’s wristwatch is born. Finally, Santos-Dumont shifts from airship to experimental airplane in 1906, only to find rival flier Louis Blériot on the field where he attempts his first demonstration. He graciously allows Blériot to make the first attempt (it’s a failure), and then successfully completes his own twenty-one-second flight: “Alberto had become the first man to take off in a plane using its own power!” Pause here for outraged readers to object, “Hey! What about the Wright Brothers?” Griffith slyly leaves her narrative right where much of the non-American world leaves Santos-Dumont: as victor. In an extensive author’s note, however, she tackles the thorny claims to first flight in detail, explaining that the Wrights’ 1903 flight had few witnesses and relied on high winds and a launch rail—not lookin’ good for Team USA. If the crowds of starstruck Parisians in Montanari’s pastel compositions often steal the scenes, it’s no more than appropriate emphasis on Santos-Dumont’s signature grabbing of attention. Strong vertical trim and layout, which one would expect to exploit sweeping skyscapes, are instead cleverly deployed to put viewers among the earthbound spectators, most often glimpsing the aviator in the distance. A bibliography and brief index round out the title, which will be a first choice for aviation enthusiasts.



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pp. 81-82
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