The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel With Louis Blériot

Written and Illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen (Penguin, 1983)

Take students back in time with this fascinating look at a moment in aviation history. The story tells of Louis Blériot, whose self-built plane sputtered into action at 4:35 A.M. on July 25, 1909, taking him from the coast of France out over the English Channel. Thirty-seven minutes later, he landed in England, making history as the first person to cross water by air.

An Inside Look
In their Caldecott acceptance speech for The Glorious Flight, the Provensens said they "wanted to capture for children some of the incredible daring of the first days of flying when men in fragile boxes made of sticks and wire and linen lurched off cow pastures all over the world." Their fascination for planes shines through in their simple but spirited illustrations. From a plane that "flaps like a chicken" to one that "like a great swan. . .rises into the air" (only to crash into the river), the Provensens capture Louis Blériot's passion, determination, and triumph.

An Art Lesson
As children look at the pictures in The Glorious Flight, ask: "What kinds of clues tell you when this story took place?" Talk about the ways details help set the scene for the story. For example, the illustrators needed to know how people dressed during this time, what kinds of transportation existed, what the streets and shops looked like, and so on. Explain that including accurate details makes the story more realistic and believable.

Follow up by inviting children to paint or draw pictures that could be the setting for a story set in their own time and place. Use these questions to guide children in including details that will help them create believable pictures that accurately reflect the time.

1. Clothing: What kinds of clothes do the children wear? The grown-ups?
2. Transportation: In The Glorious Flight, the illustrators picture cars and carriages that are true to the time. What methods of transportation represent the ways we travel around town? (Guide children to understand that over time, transportation has changed. To illustrate this point, ask children to compare cars in the story with cars today.)
3. Streets and Shops: The narrow shop-filled streets in The Glorious Flight represent those of the early 1900s in a French city. How would children picture the streets where their families shop?

Building on Books
Share Voyages of Discovery: The Story of Flight (Scholastic, 1995). Though the text in this book may be too advanced for many young readers, the interactive pages will hold their interest. See-through, fold-out, flap, and other special pages will inspire their creativity. Use the book as a model for students' own interactive books about flight. How Do Airplanes Fly? (Scholastic, 1997) offers an on-level look at the science of flight and includes three model airplanes to fly.


Book Talk
Factually accurate, The Glorious Flight is also full of fun. The Blériot I "flaps like a chicken." Another plane hops like a rabbit. There are "slight crashes," but Papa holds on to his humor - and his determination. After sharing the story, talk with students about Papa's perseverance. Guide children in making connections between themselves and Papa - and in building the self-esteem that will help them work hard to accomplish their goals.

  • Why do you think it took Papa so many tries to build a flying machine that worked?
  • What do you think kept Papa from getting discouraged? (Help children recognize his sense of humor, as well as other positive traits.)
  • How do you think Papa felt when he and his plane landed in England?
  • What is something you have worked hard at? What helped you want to try, even though it was hard?

Word Watch: BIG Words

As you reread the story, point out these words to children. Ask: "Why do you think some of the words are printed in capital letters?" Let them take turns rereading these lines using their voices to make the words "big." Encourage children to recognize that by making the letters big, the authors help us "hear" the loudness of the plane. Ask: "What are other reasons an author might use capital letters for some words?" (for example, to show feelings such as anger and surprise) Encourage children to be on the lookout for "big" words in other stories they read.

Writer's Corner: The ABCs of Flying
Explore airplanes by making a collaborative ABC book of flight. Start by sharing Let's Fly from A to Z by Doug Magee and Robert Newman (Cobblehill, 1992), an ABC book of people, places, and things that have to do with flying. Begin by brainstorming some words together. Record suggestions in any order they are offered. (Don't worry at this point if the suggestions are not in ABC order.) Invite each child to choose one letter and create a page in the book for it. Children can use items already recorded or come up with their own.


Science/Math: Time Line of Flight
Invite your students to learn more about the history of flight by asking them to bring in pictures and models of flying things as well as toy planes, helicopters, and so on. Together, make a time line, placing the pictures and objects in the order students think they were invented. Adjust the time line after researching the items. Which was the first to fly?

Science: Make it Fly!
Explore the science of flight with paper airplanes. Begin by making basic square planes (see illustration). Have students take turns launching their planes, recording observations on flight logs. Compare flight times with the world record: 18.8 seconds set by Ken Blackburn in 1994.

Follow up by discussing the forces that keep the planes in the air. In The World Record Paper Airplane Book (Workman, 1994), Ken Blackburn likens weight and lift to a game of tug-of-war. Weight is the downward pull (gravity), lift the upward. Air resistance causes drag, or backward pull. Thrust pushes a plane forward. (Your arm provides the thrust for a paper airplane.)

Social Studies: We're Pioneers, Too!
History is filled with pioneers — some known, others (like Blériot) less known. In them, we can see what the pioneering spirit is all about — a sense of adventure, a risk taken.

Take a look at ways students' everyday achievements are like those of Louis Blériot and other history-making pioneers. Ask: "How is trying something new or going someplace you've never been before like being a pioneer?" Invite children to draw pictures of or write about milestones that represent their pioneer spirit — such as reading a book for the first time. Create a display featuring your young pioneers' firsts.