The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont

FabulousFlyingMachines_JKTThe author’s child learns in school that the Wright Brothers invented flight.  Her Brazilian husband says, “No they didn’t.  It was Alberto Santos-Dumont”.

Santos-Dumont was a wealthy Brazilian living in Paris who created the first practical dirigible and in the book uses it to go to a store, drop anchor, and go in to shop for a hat.  He then creates the first plane to fly with some controls and under its own power, as opposed to needing assistance to get into the air. Amazingly, he was also the first man to wear a wristwatch.  Clocks wouldn’t work on an airplane, so his friend, Piaget, created a small watch you could wear on your wrist.

Victoria Griffith, Abrams Books for Young Readers, ©2011, 978-1-4197-0011-8

Contrasting Two Things

The story opens with the author recounting how her child had learned in school that the Wright Brothers had invented flight, only to have her Brazilian husband point out that it was a Brazilian who flew first, and in Paris at that.

Students could read about the Wright Brothers and contrast the two.
The Wright Brothers:

  • Flew in 1903 with few witnesses vs. Santos-Dumont flying in 1905 with a thousand witnesses
  • Needed assistance—high winds and a rail system to get up speed—to get into the air vs. Santos-Dumont taking to the air under its own power.
  • Were not wealthy vs. Santos-Dumont who was wealthy
  • Had little control of the flight vs. Santos-Dumont with controls
  • Were up for 12 seconds vs. Santos-Dumont for 20 seconds
  • Had one first in their life vs. Santos-Dumont having the first practical dirigible, first unassisted flight, first mass-produced airplane (the Dragonfly), and the first person to wear a wristwatch (invented just for him).

Then ask students why they think the Wright Brothers are famous and everyone, except Brazil, has forgotten Alberto Santos-Dumont.

Teaching the Word “Irony”

Irony means to use words, and sometimes tone, to convey the opposite of what the words seem to say. For example, it is ironic to survive the San Francisco earthquake only to die in the Jamaica earthquake. It is ironic to put a “do not deface the stop sign” on the actual stop sign. In the case of this book there are two ironic statements:

  • Santos-Dumont says that airplanes will bring about peace because we will see how similar all people really are.
  • Spectators say “nobody will forget this day” when they see Santos fly.

Discuss with students the irony of these statements.

For 7 creative writing ideas, click The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont to download.

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