This large picturebook in portrait format is innovative, engrossing and beautiful. It presents a biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupery who was born in France in 1900 at just the time when aeroplanes were first being made. Not only did Antoine become a pilot – one of the first to deliver mail by plane – he also wrote an exciting and best-selling illustrated children’s book, The Little Prince, about an adventurous boy seeking answers to deep questions. The story of Antoine’s adventure-filled life is told in print at the foot of each page but most of the space on each double spread is taken up by the illustrations which are, as is the case with the author’s other books, the product of a distinctive visual imagination. Sis uses colour to create mood and atmosphere. He uses the fierce colours of fires, smoke and destruction in the battle scene while the final double spread uses a palette restricted to shades of blue as a background to Antoine’s small plane and a pearly distant planet. The careful drawings and annotated images show that there is nothing new about multimodality. All the pages are in the spirit of picturebooks of the era to which they relate. Take the double spread about his early life: light brown drawings are superimposed on a sunny wash and show a family tree, buildings, vehicles, toys and artefacts that were significant to him. A river is shown in the distance and, in the foreground, there are silhouette portraits of his parents and speech bubbles with their comments on him. As he gets older and more and more passionate about everything to do with flying the pages are full of pictures of aeroplanes, airfields and aerial views. One double spread shows the history of the aeroplane with drawings of the Wright brothers’ early airplanes and the plane in which Louis Bleriot became the first to fly from France to England in 1909.
Once Antoine becomes an airmail pilot we follow his pioneering journeys through Europe and then along the West African coast. Pictures and text show how he and his colleagues created new mail routes in South America. His writing life began when the airline he had helped to build went out of business. At the outbreak of the Second World War Antoine became a military pilot engaging in reconnaissance flights from one of which he did not return. Sis remarks: ‘Maybe Antoine found his own glittering planet next to the stars’. Teachers are often looking for picturebooks to appeal to older pupils and this one would be enjoyed by people of different ages. Some young readers will savour the book on their own. Others will prefer to share it with an interested companion or take part in a small group where there would be many questions and some lively discussion. Peter Sis has a distinctive approach to biography, combining text and illustrations to inform, intrigue and engage, particularly those who are able to respond to a rich visual feast.