My girl is well under the target range for this book, but that didn’t stop her from making up her own story to go along with the pictures. I should’ve taken a video of her gibberish. She loves balloons and enjoyed spotting them on each page. The tiered cake was also a highlight, and she got very worried when Sophie crashed into a marsh and nearly drowned. It was the cutest story time/photo shoot. During reading after school with my two bigs, we usually get through at least five books, but this time it was just the one. My kids wanted to go back over the story, look at every tiny detail in the illustrations, and had so many questions. When we finally closed the book and moved on to spelling, I had the thought that this wouldn’t be the end of Sophie’s influence on us.

We are stacking our bookshelf with picture book biographies, focusing this month of course on those that share stories of remarkable women from history. Lighter than Air, by Matthew Clark Smith and Matt Tavares, tells the story of Sophie Blanchard, “the first woman to climb to the clouds and steer her own course,” from her childhood dreams to her becoming an inspiration to many, in her time and in our own. Sophie Blanchard broke free of the limits placed upon her and reached for the sky.

Smith’s words have humour, links to history, and fine moments that are rather poetic, such as this one, “She felt the air turn crisp and cold, like the first taste of fall. She saw birds fly beneath her, like fish beneath a boat.” Tavares lifts the story with emotive illustrations. They atmospheric and dreamy. In times of contemplation, trouble or mourning, they’re dark and grainy. When she’s on top of the world, Sophie looks to the horizon where the sun rises over the sea. Tavares explains, “And in the end, when Spohie realises the impact she has had on the world around her, the sky glows a warm yellow-orange. Because what could be more hopeful than the warm glow of the sun rising over the ocean at the beginning of a new day?”

  • Published by Candlewick Press
  • 6-12 years
  • 4.5

Lighter than Air