Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Pilot and the Little Prince by Peter Sis

This delightful picture book explores the unusual life of French aviator and author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Antoine was born at the turn of the last century on June 29, 1900 in Lyon, France. he came from a family filed with titled persons including counts, barons and archbishops. His father, Count Jean de Saint-Exupery died in 1904, when Antoine was only four years old. Antoine had two older sisters, Marie-Madeleine born in 1897 and Simone born in 1898 and a younger brother, Francois born in 1902 and a younger sister, Gabrielle born in 1903. After their father's death Antoine and his siblings were raised by his mother, Countess Marie de Fonscolombe and her family. Antoine was an unusual child, eager to explore and curious about the world around him.

In the early 1900's, France was the center of the newly developed aviation world. In 1909, Louis Bleriot was the first person to cross from France to England by plane. Captivated by the rapid developments in aviation, Antoine made his own flying machine when he was twelve years old. He even managed to get a pilot at a nearby air field to take him up in his plane.

His love for flying consumed Antoine; he studied at the Lycee Saint-Louis in Paris in preparation for the Naval Academy's entrance exam but he failed. In 1920 he quit his studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Like his fellow Frenchmen over the age of twenty-one who were drafted into the military, Antoine began his service in 1921. He did not have a license to fly but eventually he did learn to fly through private lessons paid for by his mother. Throughout the remainder of his required military service he flew longer and longer distances. Antoine was discharged from the military in June, 1923. Despite various jobs his love of flying continued. He managed to get hired on by an airline company that specialized in delivering the mail. Eventually he was flying the mail from France to Spain and then throughout Europe and also along the West African coast. At this time aviators used landmarks as guides and therefore did not fly at night. Airplanes also often flew in pairs in case one crashed!

Antoine was placed in charge of the airfield at Cape Juby on the West African coast. With its solitude and simple lifestyle Cape Juby inspired Antoine to write. Desiring more aviation adventures, Antoine and other aviators began flying to South America and across that continent, establishing mail routes. While flying in South America, Antoine often worked on his latest book - this one called Night Flight as the pilots often flew at night. Antoine had many adventures prior to World War II; he received the Legion of Honor medal for his work at Cape Juby, Night Flight was published in 1931, he worked as a newspaper correspondent in the Soviet Union, Spain and Morocco and he even found time to marry. He even attempted to be the fastest flight from Paris to Saigon in 1935. Even more adventures and fame were waiting for Antoine with the start of World War II in 1939 and his call-up to military service once again. But the best adventure occurred during a two year interlude while living in the United States. During this time, Antoine wrote another book, The Little Prince which became a very famous children's book.

Peter Sis has written and illustrated this lovely picture book that will likely appeal to more to young adults doing a project on Antoine de Saint Exupery or adults rather than young children. While the text gives the basic facts of Antoine's remarkable life in a simple, direct way, the true appeal of this book is the elaborate illustrations that accompany the text. Readers will find themselves lingering over each of the illustrations, reading the small text but also attempting to understand the signifcance of the many images that make up each picture.  Each colourful illustration which takes up two pages, incorporates many fascinating facts about Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Sis's artwork, some of which is done in a pointillism style, elaborates on the text either below the artwork or preceding it. For example, the first two pages are about a Antoine as a little boy and the time he was born into. There are plenty of references to his life including a small drawing of a transparent hat with an elephant in it - a direct reference to the opening pages of  his well known boot, The Little Prince. These two pages are filled with drawings of various flying machines - a hint to the pioneers of aviation throughout history, and the exotic lands Antoine would visit in his lifetime. Some of the two page spreads are easy to understand; a landscape filled with faces after Sis tells us that Antoine was told by a fellow aviator to "follow the face of the land" or the last two page spread which shows a plane flying straight up into the heavens - a reference to Antoine's last flight from which he never returned. Others are more intriguing; the map of Long Island where Antoine wrote the Little Prince looks like a crocodile.

Peter Sis was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1949. He studied in Prague at the Academy of Applied Arts and later at the Royal College of Art in London. Originally a film maker, Sis defected to the West after the film he was making about the 1984 Olympics was cancelled when the Eastern Bloc decided to boycott the Los Angeles games. Thus began his second career as a author/illustrator. Peter's work as both an author and an illustrator has been prolific; his book Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei won the 1997 Caldecott Honor Book Medal, many thousands of his illustrations have appeared in Time Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic Monthly and Esquire.

If you haven't read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery take the time to do so. It's a delightful book and The Pilot and the Little Prince makes a great companion book to read afterwards.

Book Details:
The Pilot and the Little Prince by Peter Sis
Frances Foster Books      2014

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