Horse-drawn carriages stopped dead in their tracks. People pointed at the sky. “Look!” they shouted. “There’s Santos in one of his flying machines!” Above, along the Champs–Elysées, sailed a strange-looking contraption: a cigar-shaped balloon under which was mounted a gasoline engine, a large propeller, and, in a wicker basket, a dapper little man with a neatly trimmed moustache, starched collar, and a Panama hat. Spotting an agreeable sidewalk café, he landed his airship and hitched it to a lamppost. Then he calmly ordered his morning cup of coffee
He was Alberto Santos-Dumont, a very short twenty-nine-year-old Brazilian aviator who loved everything high. (His dining table had nine-foot legs with chairs to match. To reach it, his manservant climbed a step stool.)
A year earlier, in 1901, Santos had astounded Parisians with one of the most spectacular feats in early aviation history. A prize of one-hundred thousand francs had been offered to the first pilot who took off from the Paris Aero Club, circled the Eiffel Tower, and returned to the club within thirty minutes.
Though the money meant little to Alberto—his father had left him with a fortune— it presented a challenge.
His first attempt failed when his 16-horsepower engine conked out, causing his dirigible to fall into a tree. On his second try, the airship crashed into a roof, and the brave Brazilian was left suspended in his basket fifty feet above the ground.
His third attempt was a success. “Did I make it?” he shouted as he passed the finish line. “Oui! Oui!” spectators roared back at him, throwing handkerchiefs into the air and whirling their hats on top of their walking sticks.
Flight was Alberto’s great passion. Arriving in Paris at 18, he had a balloon made— so tiny it could be packed into a travel bag, but big enough to carry his pint-size figure. Then came dirigibles —fourteen altogether.
In 1906, after the Wright brother’s historic flight, he built his own airplane. Named 14 bis, it looked like a bunch of boxes haphazardly thrown together. But it flew, making him the first man in Europe to fly a heavier-than-air machine.
His final aircraft was made of bamboo, aluminum, and silk. Seeing him buzz around in it, people shouted, “Our Santos is riding a dragonfly!” And that became its name: Demoiselle (dragonfly).
Le Petit Santos— a remarkable little man indeed.
What is the smallest rodent in the world? What is the biggest? How long can rodents live? How do they find mates? In this wonderfully detailed new book from Roxie Munro, life-sized illustrations of rodent species from around the world accompany simple, thorough text describing their life cycles, sizes, habitats, and ranges. From ground hogs to guinea pigs and pygmy jerboas to capybaras, kids will learn all about the rascally rodents who share our world!
Roxie's Rodent Rascals has earned starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "Alberto Santos-Dumont." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 16 May
Nonfiction is the new black
When he was a young man in his mid-twenties, future Roman leader Julius Caesar was voyaging across the Mediterranean Sea. Pirates swarmed over his ship. They took him to their base on tiny Farmakonisi Island, which lies off the coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and held him for ransom.
When he learned how much the pirates were demanding for his release, Caesar laughed. Do you have any idea who I am, he asked. I belong to one of Rome’s most important families. So you can get more money for me—a lot more—almost three times as much. The astonished pirates were only too happy to oblige him.
Keeping a friend and two servants with him on Farmakonisi, Caesar ordered the rest of his traveling party to go to Asia Minor and raise his ransom. While they were doing that, Caesar acted as if he were the ruler of the tiny island, rather than a captive cowering in fright. He ordered the pirates to attend lectures and poetry readings he gave, and prodded those who nodded off as he droned on and on and on. When he wanted to sleep, he ordered the pirates to either speak in whispers or go to another part of the island. He even played games with them. He also told them that when he was released, I promise I will hunt you down and execute you. In the spirit of bonhomie he engendered, the pirates apparently thought he was joking.
He wasn’t. Though outwardly he was friendly with the pirates, he seethed inwardly at the humiliation of being taken prisoner. After the ransom was paid, Caesar sailed to a nearby port. He raised a fleet of ships and scores of armed men. He returned to Farmakonisi, captured the pirates, and reclaimed the ransom money. He threw his former captors into prison. They didn’t stay there long. Caesar crucified them. He did show some mercy. Since crucifixion was a long, lingering death, he cut their throats so they died instantly.
Jim Whiting has written on many subjects. Check out his page on Amazon.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "A Man of His Word." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 26 Mar.
Giving Voice to Children in History
One of the joys of research is uncovering the unexpected. Most recently this happened to me when I was writing Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London. Dickens was a patron of the London Foundling Hospital, a charitable home for orphans founded in 1741. (Foundlings were children whose parents were unknown, and hospital meant shelter back then.)
Researching the Foundling, I learned that a century before Dickens, German composer George Frederic Handel was one of its greatest benefactors. I thought this must be a mistake since he was German. Curious, I took a side journey into Handel’s life to find out.
Brimming with musical talent, Handel moved to London at age 26 to find work and quickly became a popular composer and performer. He decided to stay, eventually becoming a British citizen. Londoners readily recognized him, for he was a great bear of a man who wore stylish clothes and an enormous wig. He spoke with a thick German accent, and when angry, his words tumbled together in German, Italian, and English. He never married or had children, but he had a big heart and readily assisted the needy and destitute, especially children. It’s been said that no other composer contributed so much to the relief of human suffering.
He often helped charities by donating all proceeds from a concert. In 1749 when he learned that the Foundling did not have funds for its proposed chapel, he offered a concert to introduce his newest composition, Messiah. The packed audience was enthralled. A second concert quickly sold out, and the chapel was completed.
Handel became a member of the Foundling’s Board of Governors and continued his financial assistance by personally directing Messiah in the chapel at least once a year, always to overflow crowds. When the king attended a performance, he stood for the “Hallelujah Chorus”--and audiences have been standing ever since. Because Handel knew people would pay to see it, he willed the Foundling an original copy of Messiah.
I listen to Handel’s compositions differently now. It’s no longer mere music from the past; instead, it feels alive, created by a fascinating man with a charitable heart who helped provide for orphans. I attend Messiah whenever I can, and when we all stand for the “Hallelujah Chorus,” I smile to myself, feeling a strong connection to history, for I know exactly why we are doing it.
As much as Andrea Warren loves writing, she also loves research. Getting distracted can pay off, because she's now writing a book on a subject she discovered while researching another book. To learn more about Handel and how he not only helped the poor but also inspired Charles Dickens, take a look at Warren's book "Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London." You'll learn more about it and about her other books at www.AndreaWarren.com .
Andrea is also a member of Authors on Call. Bring her into your classroom via interactive video conferencing. Here’s where you can learn more about her and her programs.
The great Paris tower was underway. From each corner of a broad base the size of a football field, four spidery iron structures rose, curving inward in one majestic sweep toward the middle. The construction – a web of connecting girders – called for 300 workers to assemble some 15,000 pieces of iron and snap 2.5 million rivets into place. This would be the world’s tallest man-made structure, reaching a height of 300 meters (934 feet). A glorious demonstration of engineering, it was conceived by Gustave Eiffel, the most illustrious engineer of nineteenth-century France.
The tower was to be the focal point of the International Exhibition of Paris in 1889, commemorating the 100th birthday of the French Revolution. After that, since it had no practical use, it was to be torn down.
It took two years, two months, and three days to build the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel used wrought iron, which was a relatively new building material at the time, used primarily for bridges and aqueducts. As the tower rose, becoming the city’s most prominent feature, not everyone approved. “Useless and monstrous,” one newspaper called it. Another described it as an “odious column of bolted metal.”
Called the Magician of Iron, Eiffel’s mathematical prowess and attention to detail was legendary. To put the tower project on paper took 30 draftsmen working full time for 18 months. Every rivet of the 2.5 million needed for the structure had its designated place, down to a fraction of a millimeter.
The Tower became the hit of the International Exhibition, with nearly two million people visiting it. Still, not everyone loved this prodigious web of steel girders. A famous writer was once asked why he ate lunch there every day, since he was known to hate the sight of it. He replied, “Because it’s the only place in Paris where I can’t see the damn thing.”
So why wasn’t the Eiffel Tower torn down? It almost was. What saved it was the radio broadcasting center and the weather station that Eiffel installed at the top.
Now France’s most famous landmark, it is not the only national symbol that Eiffel was involved with. He also built the iron skeleton of a lady we’re all familiar with: The Statue of Liberty.
As for the Eiffel Tower, “I ought to be jealous of that tower,” he once said. “She is more famous than I am.”
The Eiffel Tower under construction highlights the intricacy of the design as well as the massive size of the project in relation to the city of Paris. Art by Roxie Munro
Eiffel's most famous works are still major tourist attractions in the 21st century. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world. An average of 25,000 people ascend the tower every day. Approximately four million people visit New York's Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island each year. Photo Benh Lieu Song viia Wikimedia Commons. Art by Roxie Munro
One of Roxie's most recent, Masterpiece Mix, is a book about art. As an artist searches for inspiration, she explores thirty-seven paintings of different genres, and comes up with a grand finale, using all of them. The book has "smart, concise, marvelously amplifying backmatter" (Kirkus), a dedicated web page, and free downloads.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "The Magician of Iron." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 7 Mar.
Nonfiction is the New Black
In 1983, shortly before she became America’s first female astronaut to participate in a mission, Sally Ride faced a press conference. Reporters raised questions they would never have asked a man. “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?” one inquired. “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” queried another. A third wondered, “Will you wear makeup and a bra in space?” Tonight Show host Johnny Carson joked that the flight was delayed because Sally had to find a purse that matched her shoes.
It wasn’t just U.S. media. The Soviet Union had already sent two women into space. When one of them arrived at the space station, a male cosmonaut (the Soviet term for astronauts) said, “An apron is waiting for you in the kitchen.”
By this point, Sally had mastered parachute jumping, water survival, coping with weightlessness and the massive G-forces from a rocket launch, and other highly demanding skills. She flew jet planes. She had a Ph.D. degree in physics from Stanford, one of the nation’s top universities. She helped develop a robotic arm for use on the space shuttle. She was a nationally ranked tennis player who decided not to turn pro because she preferred science.
The general public seemed more accepting. On launch day at Florida’s Cape Canaveral, thousands of people wore “Ride, Sally, Ride!” T-shirts, from the lyrics of the pop song “Mustang Sally.”
The mission went flawlessly, and Sally flew again the following year. She was scheduled for a third flight in 1986, but it was scrubbed when the Challenger space shuttle blew up.
Sally left the space program soon afterward. She was passionate about encouraging young people—especially girls—to become involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). Here are some of the things she did toward that achieving that goal.
Sadly, Sally Ride died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 61. Shortly afterward, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is the nation’s highest civilian honor.
To find information on many of Jim Whiting's books, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "'Ride, Sally, Ride!'" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 May