The Little Prince (1943) is one of the most popular children's books (or books of any kind, really) of all time. Combined, its child-centric worldview and its surprisingly subtle psychological and philosophical observations have led to decades of adoration and constant re-rereading from children and adults alike—all of this is quite remarkable given the fact that the book's author, French aviator and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was neither a children’s book author nor an illustrator of any standing. In fact, Saint-Exupéry began writing the book only at the suggestion of his publisher’s wife, who believed that the project might calm his nerves. After all, the man had hardly led a tranquil life.
When the war broke out, he flew for the French military until the Nazi occupation of France began, whereupon he fled to North America. There, he advocated for America’s swift entry into the war (reputedly while having an affair with Charles’s Lindbergh’s wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who was advocating for the exact opposite course of action). When the Americans did join the war, Saint-Exupéry convinced the American forces to let him fly reconnaissance missions, despite being, at age 43, much older than the maximum age limit.
The impact of his aviation career on his work as a writer, even before he wrote The Little Prince, would prove to immeasurable. Despite his inability to finish a course of study, he was always a fairly literary-minded individual, and he was known to read and write in his one-seat aircraft, often jotting down ideas in his notebook mid-flight. His first two books, The Aviator (1926) and Southern Mail (1929), were based on his experience as a pilot. Later, he would win a National Book Award for non-fiction for Wind, Sand and Stars (1939), in which he described his time spent traveling dangerous mail-carrying routes across the Sahara and the Andes.
During the war, Saint-Exupéry’s legacy was in a slightly precarious position. While the Vichy government had banned certain of his books for negative mentions of Hitler and for praising Jewish aviators with whom he had worked, Saint-Exupéry was a fierce critic of Free French general Charles de Gaulle. As a result, de Gaulle tried to paint the author and aviator as a Nazi sympathizer, earning his books the strange distinction of being banned in both collaborationist territory and among the resistance as well. Since his death in 1944 (evidently following a plane crash experienced during one of his reconnaissance missions for the Americans), however, his work as both a writer and an aviator has been held in the highest esteem, with The Little Prince becoming one of the most-translated, most-adapted, most-read, and most beloved children’s books in history, appearing along with its author on the French fifty-franc note.