When you consider the effect for both good and bad that flight has had on civilization an effect even greater, it could be argued, than the atomic bomb it's remarkable that we know so little about the men behind the phenomenon. But all that should change, as 2003 marks the centennial of Wilbur and Orville Wright's first excursion into the wild blue yonder. Peter Busby's fascinating book First to Fly is part of what is sure to be a flood of volumes for both adults and children on the subject.

The book begins with something that kids everywhere can relate to a new toy. In this case, it's a popular plaything of the late 19th century, a gadget called a "bat," which was essentially a toy helicopter. The young Wright boys loved the thing, and by depicting their fascination, Busby shows how the toy inspired the kids, who, encouraged by both their parents, were already fledgling inventors. They took the thing apart, made some of their own and much later, decided to try to build a machine that would take a man into the air. This episode from their youth also demonstrates that what the brothers would accomplish was not totally an original idea, but an amalgam of knowledge already available, coupled with their own research. David Craig's detailed illustrations in First to Fly colorfully evoke an antique, turn-of-the-century feeling. There are plenty of period photographs as well, but Craig's paintings take the reader where no tintype could ever go directly above Orville and a military observer as they frantically try to maneuver a damaged flyer to the ground, for instance.

From their inquisitive boyhood, to their entrepreneurial days, to their recognition as world-famous men, First to Fly will give a young pilot or inventor a look at how ordinary people with extraordinary dreams can accomplish the impossible.

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