Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, The First Woman Pilot (illustrated by Matt Tavares) (Candlewick Press, forthcoming 2017)
Behold the story of Sophie Blanchard, an extraordinary woman who is largely forgotten despite her claim to being the very first female pilot in history. In eighteenth-century France, “balloonomania” has fiercely gripped the nation…but all of the pioneering aeronauts are men. The job of shattering that myth falls to a most unlikely figure: a shy girl from a seaside village, entirely devoted to her dream of flight. Sophie is not the first woman to ascend in a balloon, nor the first woman to accompany an aeronaut on a trip, but she will become the first woman to climb to the clouds and steer her own course. The words of Matthew Clark Smith bring Sophie’s story to light after so many years, while Matt Tavares’s atmospheric art and unique perspectives take her to new heights.
Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects (illustrated by Giuliano Ferri) (Two Lions, 2015)
A moth with a sixth sense. A wasp that hunts beetles nearly twice its size. The lives of fascinating creatures such as these were unknown until one man introduced them to the world.
Meet Jean-Henri Fabre, one of the most important naturalists of all time. As a boy in the French countryside, Henri spent hours watching insects. He dreamed of observing them in a new way: in their own habitats. What he discovered in pursuing that dream was shocking; these small, seemingly insignificant creatures led secret lives – lives of great drama!
With its lively, lyrical text and richly detailed illustrations, this intriguing picture-book biography introduces the man who would forever change the way we look at insects, bringing to life the fascinating world of dazzling beetles, ferocious wasps, and other amazing small wonders that exist all around us.
“Stone Blind” (in Bartram’s Living Legacy: The Travels and the Nature of the South, ed. Dorinda G. Dalllmeyer, Macon, Ga.: Mercer Univ. Press, 2010)
On a prairie, the scale of wonders is small: you lose focus on the gnarled ash tree, and instead see the fantastical lichens that have swallowed its twigs, with their fronds and barbels and polyps that suggest the deep sea. The babbling catbird fades, and in its place are the tick-tick-buzz of the meadow katydid—there he is, with those red insomniac eyes, on the nearest grass stalk—and the fighter-jet whiz of the robber fly, in hot pursuit of a bee—and the faint clatter of the leaf-footed bug, touching down on a rosehip like a moon lander. Fainter still is the rhythmic munching of the tussock moth caterpillars, with their splendid tufts of tiger-striped fur; these form little herds on milkweed leaves, whose sticky sap they outwit by severing the veins at their base. And what you will not hear at all are the ultrasonic battles that unfold after dark, once the adult moths take to the air. Each moth fires off a cacophony of clicks from a pair of drumlike organs on its thorax, jamming the signals of the bats that pursue it…
“Last Stand” (in unspOiLed.: Writers Speak for Florida’s Coast, eds. Susan Cerulean, Janisse Ray, and A. James Wohlpart, Tallahassee, Fl.: Heart of the Earth, 2010)
Florida stands out. A beacon and a redoubt, a defiant finger and a proffered hand, this place embodies unlike any other the riddles of peninsularity. We listen here for the first strains of the exotic, in the parrot’s squawk, the coqui’s clamor, the reggaeton beat — but also for the beleaguered howl of the native: the panther’s scream, the ivorybill’s rap, the Miccosukee’s lilting tongue. The first beachhead in the conquest of the South, this land of sunshine — rising on the one hand, setting on the other — has become, improbably, a last stronghold of wildness…