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The Pilot and the Little Prince

The Pilot and the Little Prince
Written and illustrated by Peter Sís
Published in 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
ISBN # 978-0374380694

Grades K and up

Book Review 

Aviator, pioneer, inventor, war hero: In The Pilot and the Little Prince, we learn that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was all this and more. With characteristic charm, wonder, and grandeur, award-winning author/illustrator Peter Sís’s picture book biography pays homage to the beloved author of the classic book The Little Prince. Born at the turn of the twentieth century, Saint-Exupéry grew up in a world that was taking off on new adventures and using new kinds of transport to do so. Sís captures this rapidly progressing world and innovative spirit with multi-layered textual and visual delight. The book’s main text lines the bottom of the pages, filled with the kinds of questions and tidbits about Saint-Exupéry’s life that would tantalize a child. Floating and swirling above those words in whimsical illustration, Sís offers more fascinating nuggets about Saint-Exupéry’s life and the historical era in which he lived. But perhaps most mesmerizing and astute are the illustrations themselves: clever, humorous, fantastical, and evocative renderings of a child’s perspective of Saint-Exupéry ’s life. Together, these elements provide, against a subtle chronicle of the impact of aviation on the world, a rich and surprising account of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s rise from determined dreamer to celebrated  author. Ideal for read-alouds, small group exploration, or individual entertainment, The Pilot and the Little Prince won’t stay on your bookshelf for long.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Grades K and up

 

Peter Sís Illustrator Study. Gather all of the picture books illustrated by Peter Sís. Survey his illustrations, and identify his artistic style, his artistic idiosyncrasies, and favorite artistic media to use. What is similar and different across his illustrations? For older students, you might ask: How does the work he does with other authors compare to the work he writes and illustrates on his own? What themes emerge in his illustrations? How does he convey humor in his illustrations? Have your students spend time examining the illustrations in this book and then, watch the YouTube video listed in Further Explorations below to hear about Sís’s artistic process form the illustrator himself. How did their conclusions match up against Sís’s explanation?
The Creative Process. Using some of the links listed below, have students research Sís’s own creative process. Then have them research the creative processes of some of their other favorite picture book authors and illustrators. Compare and contrast what each author and illustrator says, and then have your students try out some of the strategies they describe when attempting their next piece of creative writing or artwork.

 
Grades 3 and up

Art Imitating Life. Read aloud The Little Prince to your students (or have them read it themselves), and then read The Pilot and the Little Prince. Have them identify parts in Sís’s biography that resemble events and experiences in The Little Prince. You can have them chart this information to show the connections and inspiration explicitly, or encourage students to script and role play an interview with Saint-Exupéry that explains the similarities between his life and his book.

The Impact of Aviation. Sís writes that Saint-Exupéry jumped at every chance to be part of the new directions and opportunities that aviation developments presented. Use some of the websites listed below in Further Explorations to research the impact of aviation on human life more fully. How did it aid or hinder communication and relations among peoples and nations? How did it advance knowledge about our planet? Have students then create multimedia presentations of what they learned.

Sís’s Pioneers. The Pilot and the Little Prince is the latest picture book biography by Sís about a noteworthy figure whose restless and adventuresome spirit helped pioneer new eras in world history. Have students read Sís’s other biographies of these people, such as Gallileo, Christopher Columbus, and Charles Darwin (see Books below). Compare and contrast how Sís frames these pioneers through his text and illustrations. How does each medium work to tell a particular kind of story about each man? After this exercise, have students write and illustrate a picture book biography about another pioneer in history, attempting to emulate Sís’s style.

Analyzing Fantastical Picturebook Illustrations. Many of Sís’s illustrations convey multiple layers of meaning, particularly because they tend to depict fantastical scenes. And yet, in conjunction with close reading of the text, those illustrations make sense in deep and surprising way. For example, the double page spread of the French and Spanish landscape and the illustration of New York City are not literal depictions. Model how one might dissect the illustrations in The Pilot and the Little Prince. Ideally, you would examine the illustrations using a document camera to project the images. How did Sís create emotional impact through the use of color, line, page breaks, and perspective? It may also help students to practice analyzing other fantastical picture books, such as Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer, or famous works of art by Picasso, Chagall, and the surrealists.

Grades 6 and up
 
Is It a Children’s Book? It has been argued that The Little Prince is not actually a book for children, but an allegory for adults, due to its abstract and dense style. What evidence is there in both The Little Prince and The Pilot and the Little Prince to support that claim? Have students closely read each text, or excerpts of each text, as well as any other material that might shed light on this argument (see, for example, some of the books or websites listed below in Further Explorations). Then, divide students into groups based on the conclusions they reach, to debate for what audience The Little Prince is intended.

Continuing the Story. While The Pilot and the Little Prince ends with the mystery of Saint-Exupéry’s final flight, we do know a little bit more about what may have happened. Have students research the news articles that reported the discovery of evidence in the waters south of Marseille, France, as well as other reports of found wreckage (see Further Explorations for some websites). Challenge students to put the pieces together to determine what happened during that last flight, and to perhaps continue writing the rest of the picturebook biography. You may want to have students read Shelley Tanaka’s Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator as a paired text.

Further Explorations 
Online Resources

Peter Sís’s website
Foundation Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
http://www.fasej.org/en/

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry exhibit at the Air and Space Museum of France (website in French)
http://aama.museeairespace.fr/fr/visites-guidees/mini-visites/saint-exupery.html

NPR Interview with Peter Sís
Slideshow – Why Peter Sís made The Pilot and the Little Prince
Video – Peter Sís on His Studio and The Pilot and the Little Prince
Slideshow – Morgan Library & Museum exhibit of “The Little Prince: A New York Story:
Article – “The Strange Triumph of The Little Prince” in The New Yorker
The Aviation History Online Museum
Aviation History Timeline

Documentary – The Flying Years – Aviation History

Books

de Saint-Exupéry, A. (1943/2013). The little prince. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
de Saint-Exupéry, A. (2002). A guide for grown-ups: Essential wisdom from the collected works of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers.
Sís, P. (2002). Follow the dream: The story of Christopher Columbus. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Sís, P. (2000). Starry messenger: Galileo Galilei . New York: Square Fish.
Sís, P. (2003). The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin- Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker . New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux


Tanaka, S. (2008). Amelia Earhart: The legend of the lost aviator. Ill. by D. Craig. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.