Nonfiction Monday: The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffith

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont
written by Victoria Griffith, illustrations by Eva Montanari
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4197-0011-8
Interest Level: 1st Grade and up
Reviewed from copy received from author for review.
Opinions are solely my own, no compensation rec'd.

BLURB: While the Wright Brothers were gliding over Kitty Hawk, the charming Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont was making his own mark on the history of flight.  Alberto loved floating over Paris in his personal flying machine called a dirigible. He would tie it to a post, climb down, and spend the day shopping or meeting friends for coffee. But he wanted to make his invention even better. By 1906, Alberto had transformed his balloon into a box with wings! But now there was competition. Another inventor challenged Alberto to see who would be the first in flight. Alberto’s hard work paid off, and his airplane successfully soared into the air, making him the first pilot to lift off and land a completely self-propelled plane.

Like most Americans, I've always believed that the Wright Brothers were the first to really and truly fly.  I mean I knew that there there many others who came before these two who helped develop theories and ideas, some experimenters even died in the process.  I had never heard of Alberto Santos-Dumont, which after reading this book, I find very unfortunate.  Santos-Dumont's story is a very interesting one.  I mean riding a dirigible to run errands?! How cool is that!  I was also impressed with his unselfishness and generosity in using the money he received from his inventions.  Allowing the other inventor to try to fly his plane first is no small gesture. What I found sad was how quickly the world forgot him. Just goes to show how fleeting fame can be.

This is the kind of story that I like best.  Instead of just sharing the facts, the author has taken the time to let the reader get to know her character through the stories about him.  I appreciated the additional information and actual photographs of Santos-Dumont at the end of the book.  There is also a short bibliography and index (as all good nonfiction books should have).  The writing flows well and makes this book a good choice for a read-a-loud.  The only concern I have is the dialogue.  This is a concern with all biographies, children's or adult's.  How much is it permissible to invent based on research versus using only words the person had spoken that had been recorded?  A question to which there is no one right answer.  This could make for a good discussion with children about the subjective nature of most history.

The illustrations by Montanari did not really appeal to me very much on the first run through.  But they have grown on me as I've looked back through the book.  I think they suit the story.  The only real problem I had was the horses, being a horse fan, I found their strangeness somewhat irritating.  Otherwise the illustrations provide a nice glimpse of another time and place.

I highly recommend this book both for curricular purposes (inventors/inventions, biographies, etc.) but also for pleasure reading.

Head on over to Gathering Books for this weeks Nonfiction Monday.


  1. This is the second time I've read a positive review for this book. It does sound really good.
    Thanks for the (second) recommendation.
    Apples with Many Seeds

  2. Hi Heidi, I love your candid reviews. The title sounds so exotic with a tinge of magical realism - will check out this book and see whether it's something that would also appeal to me. Like Tammy noted, this is perhaps the second (or third) time that I've read a fairly positive review of the book.

    Thank you for sharing and for participating in this week's Nonfiction Monday.


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