Thursday, January 23, 2020

Born to Fly

Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin. Grades 6 and up. Roaring Brook, 2019. 288 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

What it's about: 

Why is Amelia Earhart the only female pilot that most of us can name? Yes, she was amazing, but profiled here you'll find a dozen other women just as daring, just as capable. This is the true story of the 1929 Women's Air Derby. 

Starting with profiles and brief biographies of most of the major players in the race, Steve Sheinkin introduces us to women like Amelia Earhart (whom you may have heard of), Marvel Crosson (who built her first airplane from boxes of parts), and Elinor Smith (who at age 17 was disciplined by the mayor of New York City for flying underneath four New York bridges, the first to attempt such a stunt). 

And then we get to the race and I dare you to be able to put the book down once it starts. 

It was a grueling race, leapfrogging from Santa Monica, California across the South and Texas, up through the Midwest and ending in Cleveland, Ohio. Men had held air derbies before, but this one, just nine years after women got the vote, was just for the ladies. LOTS of people didn't believe women could do it or that women should do it. Flight was new and risky. This race meant days and days of long flying before airplanes were climate controlled or had radios. Add to that the ominous telegram that one of the racers received before the race: BEWARE OF SABOTAGE. 

My thoughts: 

This is a fascinating and compelling narrative nonfiction look at a dozen or so trailblazing women. These were women taking tremendous risks - pilots and passengers still died on the regular in these days before seatbelts and enclosed cabins and reliable oxygen supply. And they were also facing a lot of naysayers who said that women shouldn't be doing any of that. If a man died in an airplane crash, he was heralded as a hero who risked life and limb in the pursuit of technological advances. If a woman died, she was held up as an example that women should not be allowed to fly.

The first half of the book is interesting enough, but once the race starts (about halfway through), I absolutely could not put this book down. My husband knew when I got to that part because I started just smiling and nodding at anything he was saying, never taking my eyes off the page. Sheinkin knows how to write a nonfiction thriller, that's for sure. It's an absolutely nail-biting look at the fiercely competitive world of women's flight.

I would hand this to young readers interested in women's history, especially women trailblazers and/or women's sports.



Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming (Yearling, 2019). This one's a biography of Amelia Earhart rather than a collective biography and it's absolutely riveting, too. I was especially compelled by the details of Earhart's disappearance. Did you know that there were radio broadcasts heard by Americans after she disappeared that just may have been the last time anyone heard her voice?

Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History (Young Readers' Edition) by Keith O'Brien (HMH, 2019). This profile features five women who made history during the Golden Age of Flight, some of whom (Amelia Earhart and Louise Thaden) are in Sheinkin's book and some who aren't. Readers looking for more women pilots should pick this one up. 

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women who Dared to Dream by Tanya Bolden (Candlewick, 2009). It's just a jump and a skip from the history of flight to the history of space flight. This wonderful narrative nonfiction book features the Mercury 13, a group of women who were given the same tests and evaluations as men who applied to be astronauts, although they were not allowed to go to space.