A fascination with hot air balloons has hit late-18th-century Paris, and young Sophie Armant dreams of joining those bold aeronauts.
Sophie especially admires the daredevil Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who, with John Jeffries, was the first to cross the English Channel in a balloon. Sophie, however, is told that “Women were made of weaker stuff. Their place was on earth.” But she meets and marries Blanchard, and they fly together until his death, when she begins to fly alone, becoming the first woman pilot. Toward the end of her career, Sophie reflects on the limits the world puts on women and realizes that “There is a limit. And that limit is the sky.” Smith’s prose—rich, poetic, and strong on active verbs—is a fine match for Tavares’ gorgeous ink-and-watercolor illustrations, which focus on Sophie and the skies, his palette pairing Sophie’s moods with the colors of the skies. The other stars—the balloons themselves—are dazzling, with intricate lines, rich colors, and swelling bags ready to go aloft. His strong, monumental style and steady lines give even the most perilous-looking of Sophie’s aerial perches comforting stability—even as she sets off fireworks from the air. An author’s note adds information, including a note on Sophie’s tragic death.
A beautifully told story of a young woman with lofty aspirations. (illustrator’s note, bibliography) (Picture book. 5-10)