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This delightful book by award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Bruno Gibert is inspired by the true story of the first flight of living creatures in a handmade aircraft. On September 19, 1783, the Montgolfier brothers demonstrated their new invention, the hot-air balloon or montgolfière, at the Palace of Versailles before a large crowd, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Considered too dangerous for human passengers, the experimental vessel carried a sheep, a duck, and a hen in its basket. The balloon flew for about eight minutes, covered a distance of roughly two miles, and reached an altitude of more than 1,500 feet before landing safely. The animals’ balloon ride caused a sensation and the first human flight followed a few months later.
By the end of 1783, Louis XVI had ennobled the Montgolfier family in recognition of the brothers’ important achievements, which perhaps prompted a royal celebration for the animals like the one depicted in the book. In Gibert’s fantasy, the animals anger the king at the fete by describing him as “no bigger than the tiniest snail” when viewed from high above the ground, and Louis imprisons them in the Bastille. While the direct role of talking animals in the storming of the Bastille in 1789 can’t quite be supported by historical evidence, this book does vividly evoke the stirring developments in aeronautics that took place right around the time of the French Revolution.