Friday, June 11, 2010

Captain Arsenio: Inventions and (Mis)adventures in Flight

Captain Arsenio: Inventions and (Mis)adventures in Flight
Captain Arsenio: Inventions and (Mis)adventures in Flight written & illustrated by Pablo Bernasconi, Houghton Mifflin Books, 2005
Captain Arsenio is an engaging character—a dreamer of a different sort. Maybe some people would call him a fool, but there’s something about his optimism, creativity and lack of critical thinking skills that, well, I guess it reminds me of my kids. In a good way. You know the elaborate plans kids make for building robots, creating works of art and constructing castles? This book is an embodiment of those dreams, and what might happen if somebody actually acted on them.
Manuel J. Arsenio was a careless cheese master, blacksmith, scuba diver, and ship captain. Though he was given the easiest of missions in each of these careers, he still couldn’t complete any of them successfully. This problem may be the reason he left those jobs behind to enter the distinguished pages of aviation history.


This is a fictional work told as a biography, full of quotes from Captain Arsenio’s 1780s “diary”. It documents six of the projects he came up with in his quest to build a flying machine. The inventions are ridiculous and fun: the Motocanary, the Aerial Submarine, and the Illusion Burner, among others. Although Arsenio always has high hopes, (“It cannot fail!”) the pages from his flight diary reveal the true story. It pays to read all the fine print in this book, too: the notes in the flight diary give blow-by-blow reports of each flight, showing “panic points”, maximum height reached, and time elapsed, accompanied by dry notes like, “A complex way to demonstrate a total unawareness of the laws of physics.” You’ve got to love the guy for his cheerful persistence in the face of failure.

My kids and I laughed at him, but there’s something just a little familiar about him, too.

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