In 1783, two brothers in Paris flew the first hot air balloon. Sophie Armant Blanchard was 5 years old at the time, but even at that age, she knew that here place was up in the clouds. Matthew Clark Smith and illustrator Matt Tavares tell her story in the beautiful book, Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, The First Woman Pilot.
As the synopsis says: “Behold the story of Sophie Blanchard, an extraordinary woman who is largely forgotten despite her claim to being the very first female pilot in history. In eighteenth-century France, “balloonomania” has fiercely gripped the nation . . . but all of the pioneering aeronauts are men. The job of shattering that myth falls to a most unlikely figure: a shy girl from a seaside village, entirely devoted to her dream of flight. Sophie is not the first woman to ascend in a balloon, nor the first woman to accompany an aeronaut on a trip, but she will become the first woman to climb to the clouds and steer her own course. The words of Matthew Clark Smith bring Sophie’s story to light after so many years, while Matt Tavares’s atmospheric art and unique perspectives take her to new heights.”
This book captures an interesting craze in history. But more importantly, it focuses in on a girl’s dream and the fact that even though she was told that the sky was no place for a woman, she knew in her heart that people were wrong. When Sophie was able to soar in a hot air balloon for the first time, her joy is captured on the page.
Sophie became the first woman to fly solo in 1805. After her husband died, she sold tickets to her ballooning shows in order to keep her dream alive and became known throughout France.
One of the things that I especially liked about the book was how it circled back at the end to show how the world had tried to put limits on her and all women, but how she had not listened. By following her dreams and taking to the sky, Sophie Blanchard had not only given herself wings, but “she had lifted the spirits of thousands along with her.” This is a great book for all children to understand that they should always go after what they believe is right, even if those around them are not as comfortable with the idea. Sophie’s deepest desire was to soar in the clouds and she made those dreams her reality.
Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!