Recommended for ages 5-10.
Girl Power Week: This week I'm going to review three new picture books that concentrate on extraordinary real-life women. The first, by Tami Lewis Brown, tells the story of Elinor Smith, who by the time she was six years old knew she wanted to fly. But in 1917, girls were supposed to stay on the ground. From the time Elinor first begged her dad for a $5 ride in an airplane, she was hooked, and by the time she was sixteen, she was the youngest licensed pilot in the United States--boy or girl.
Like the much better-known Amelia Earhart, Elinor became world-famous in her day, and at age 19 was named best woman pilot in the U.S. by the nation's flyers. She achieved this fame partly by taking a dangerous dare from a fellow pilot--to fly under one of the bridges across New York's East River. But that wasn't daring enough for Elinor--she'd fly under all four of the bridges in one trip! No one had ever succeeded in such a crazy stunt--and flying under bridges was illegal as well. Can Eleanor do it?
In her first published book, Brown highlights for contemporary readers the inspiring story of a young woman who succeeds against the odds. She documents the development of Elinor's passion for flying, some of the obstacles she faced, and also her careful preparation for her challenging stunt. We then fly along with her as she flawlessly executes her spectacular flying stunt, even as unforeseen conditions pop up.
The book's appeal is greatly increased by its handsome illustrations by French artist Francois Roca, whose splendid paintings, rendered in a nostalgic realistic style, make us feel like we are soaring in a small plane along with Elinor. The well-paced narrative, with its refrain of "Soar, Elinor, Soar," would make it an ideal read-aloud for elementary school classes, as well as for parents looking for inspiring stories for their children.
This well-researched book includes an author's note providing additional biographical details on Elinor's life, as well as a brief bibliography. Brown was fortunate to be granted hours of interviews by Ms. Smith, who died earlier this year at the age of 98, as well as access to her personal collection of papers and photographs.
Those interested in learning more about early women pilots might enjoy the following picture books:
A Picture Book of Amelia Earhart (Picture Book Biography), by David A. Adler and Jeff Fisher (Holiday House, 1999)
Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator, by Shelley Tanaka and David Craig (Abrams Books, 2008)
and for older readers, Women of the Wind: Early Women Aviators (Women Adventurers), by Wanda Langle (Morgan Reynolds Publishing, 2006).