Sometimes brilliant book design elevates a good story into something extraordinary. In the main text of this biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Peter Sís uses language infused with the same tone as Saint-Exupéry’s masterpiece, The Little Prince: 

Long ago in France, at the turn of the last century, a little boy was born to be an adventurer.

The book would have been good with just this simply-told story.

But Sís makes the book into an unforgettable tour de force with his illustrations. Are they simply a new style of illustration for picture books? Are the illustrations actually the back matter? Or is this an example of layered text? I’m not sure how to define it. On many of the spreads, Sís packs his inventive illustrations with textual content. This page has a design that’s fun to look at:


But if you lean in close, you see tiny snippets of fascinating story. Crashes Saint-Exupéry endured! Stunts he performed! People’s memories of him!


Page after page I found myself bending in close to make sure I read every bit of text looping around every single delightful picture. Kids who love narrative nonfiction will like this book, but it speaks just as beautifullly to the information fanatic who devours Ripley’s Believe It or Not. There’s no back matter in the book, but other than a bibliography, it doesn’t really need one. The illustrations do the job.

In this 7 minute video, Peter Sís talks about the book.

The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antonie de Saint-Exupéry, by Peter Sís. Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2014.


Who was the first person to fly an airplane? This book profiles Alberto Santos-Dumont, the Brazilian contender. It’s a charming story of sophisticated Parisian life in 1903, despite clunky invented dialogue and an awkward shift in point of view in the middle of the book.

Louis Blériot, the hero of Alice and Martin Provensen’s Caldecott winner The Glorious Flight, appears here in a less-than-glorious light. Reading the two books together could lead to a fascinating discussion about the different perspectives writers bring to their subjects. Which also makes it a great Common Core pairing for fourth graders, who are supposed to integrate information from two texts on the same topic.

Don’t miss Griffith’s fantastic author’s note at the end. It has it all-how she got interested in the story, more details about events in the story, what happened next, and a discussion of Santos-Dumont’s legacy in the worlds of flight and fashion.

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffiths. Abrams: 2011.