Book review: Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot, by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares

Smith, Matthew Clark. Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot. Illus. by Matt Tavares. Candlewick, 2017. $16.99. unp. ISBN 9780763677329. Ages 7-10. P8Q8

Although Blanchard was not the first woman to go up in a balloon, she used “balloonomania” in 18th-century France to chart her course. Only five years old when men first went into the skies, she ran on the beaches, watched the birds, and wished that she, too, could go up in the air. Marrying showman Jean-Pierre Blanchard gave her the opportunity to realize her dreams, and she continued this practice even after he died when she was only 29 years old. Blanchard made her living from ballooning until she died in a fireworks show 12 years later. An illustrator’s note discusses how he told followed the emotional ups and downs with his watercolors that depicted the darkness of Blanchard’s sadness as a child to the lightness of her triumph.

Verdict: The richness of the poetic voice uses passionate active verbs to mesh with the vibrant illustrations with intricate ink lines that often present vast skyscapes. A great read about a woman’s achievements long before aviators such as Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart.

April 2017 review by Nel Ward.

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