Alice and Martin Provensen certainly had a good run in the early 1980s. First there was their Newberry-winning-Caldecott-Honor-attaining, "A Visit to William Blake's Inn" (which I'm not a fan, but oh well) and then their very own Caldecott winning, "The Glorious Flight". If you were randomly scanning the shelves of your local library and you stumbled upon this book, you might consider it an early picture book. The story's muted color schemes and simple characters give it a particularly classic feel, unlike anything else you might find in contemporary tales. This may not be THE most exciting book in the world (the Provensens excel in moods and tones rather than fast-paced adrenaline rushes) but there is a lovely feel to it that outweighs its occasional lapses into deadened flatness.
Voila, Monsieur Louis Bleriot (who, for purposes that remain unclear, is referred to here as a very un-French "Mr."). A well-to-do man of France in 1901, Bleriot lives a contented existence with his spouse, five children, cat, dog, and cockatoo. Just your average bourgeoisie. All that changes one day when up above the city streets Bleriot spots a remarkable new invention. It's a great white airship circling the skies. Suddenly, much like Toad in "Wind in the Willows", Bleriot is entranced and mesmerized by the contraption. Says our hero, "I, too, will build a flying machine". The book chronicles his various attempts, each growing more sophisticated as Bleriot himself grows more learned. Finally, he enters a contest to be the first man to fly across the English Channel and, after some tense moments, succeeds and wins. Says the text, "Truly, it was a glorious flight".
Indeed. It's a nice story too. In many of their books, the Provenses' style strikes the reader as a bit lacking in basic human emotions and warmth. In this case, however, it works perfectly within the text. The illustrations in this story are like old posed family portraits, only with a twinge more life and verve to them. The colors are, as I said before, muted. Yet somehow this doesn't bore the reader or even so much as put them to sleep. I think this may have something to do with the fact that this book, in the end, is a biography of sorts. Based on true events, the unnatural style and shades fit better than over-the-top bright/gaudy colors ever could have.
It's somewhat backhanded praise, but praise just the same when I say that in spite of my deep down dislike of the Provensens' other books, I could not help but like, "The Glorious Flight". It really isn't going to deeply capture the attention of any children but those interested in history, France, or flying machines. A nice story that somehow garnered itself a Caldecott Award. And it's nice to page through.