Steve Sheinkin; Illustrated by Bijou Karman
Roaring Brook Press. 2019
Grades 5 up
In his usual flair for mixing facts with primary sources (including lots of quotes), Sheinkin once again has written a nonfiction book that is hard to put down.
In 1929, just twenty-six years after the Wright Brothers invented the first airplane and nine years since women won the right to vote, a group of trailblazing female pilots joined the first air race across America: the Women’s Air Derby. The race began in Santa Monica, and criss-crossed the U.S. to end in Cleveland, Ohio. Twenty women had dreams of being the winner, but only one would grab the coveted title.
Women pilots, all white, who take center stage throughout the book include Florence “Pancho” Barnes, Marvel Crosson, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Elder, Ruth Nichols, Louise Thaden, Bobbi Trout, and Elinor Smith. We learn of their first steps to becoming a pilot in the days when planes were made of wood and the sport of flying was considered deadly.
The race itself was daring. Most of the planes were two-seaters with open cockpits, making them exposed to all the elements. Pilots only had paper road maps for navigation. The women pilots enjoyed a sense of camaraderie even as they suspected their planes were being sabotaged. (Marvel Crosson, a strong contender to win, was the only pilot who died during the race. Many suspected the cause of carbon monoxide poisoning). Just who didn’t want these women to succeed?
Each page of this suspenseful narrative will find readers on the edge of their seats (I know I was) wondering who will win the race, who will survive, and how these daring women, who refused to stay in the kitchen, opened up so many possibilities for equality for those of us who came behind them.
Historic photos, along with Karman’s black & white sketches, are visually appealing. Unfortunately, not all the photos and sketches are captioned.
Back matter includes source notes, works cited, and index. Sheinkin offers a lot of detail about the pilots. It would have been helpful if Sheinkin included mini biographies of each pilot highlighted in the text.
In the last chapter Sheinkin poses this question: “So why is Amelia Earhart the one name everyone knows? She deserves the love, but so does Louise Thaden, Marvel Crosson, Pancho Barns, Elinor Smith, and so many more. Why is Amelia Earhart the one who kids dress up for Halloween?” Sure. She made two history-making Atlantic flights and had a husband, G.P. Putnam who was a marketing genius. “But the biggest factor in Earhart’s lasting fame is her mysterious disappearance.”
“Another face-paced history” by award winning author, Sheinkin. Click here to watch the book trailer.
To review this book, I borrowed a copy from my local public library.