November 9 – National Aviation History Month

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About the Holiday

If you look back in history you see that people have always been fascinated with flight. The first kite was invented in 1000 BCE in China; around 400 BCE Archytas of Tarentum developed a steam-powered pigeon; and most people are familiar with the designs of flying machines that Leonardo de Vinci created in the late 1400s. An important discovery that led inventors in the right direction came in 1680 when an Italian mathematician determined that human muscles were incompatible with flight.

Zip ahead about 100 years and the first hot-air balloon flight was undertaken, which led to more and more complex technology, resulting in Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flight in 1903. From there, it seemed, the sky was the limit. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to complete a trans-Atlantic Ocean solo flight in 1932, and in 1947 Charles Yeager broke the sound barrier. But it’s astounding to think that from that modest 12-second first flight by the Wright Brothers to the first man in space—Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin—it took only 58 years! Today astronauts from countries around the world live and work in the International Space Station, and spacecraft are traversing deep space.

Wind Flyers

Written by Angela Johnson | Illustrated by Loren Long

 

With pride a young African-American boy tells the story of his great-great-uncle who was a Tuskegee Airman in World War II. His uncle was “a smooth wind flyer. A Tuskegee wind flyer…,” the boy says. He knows well his uncle’s history—how like a bird, his uncle believed he was born to fly. “With his arms flapping, he jumped off a chicken coop at the age of five,” and when he was only seven he soared from a lofty barn into a pile of hay. His first real flight came at the age of eleven, when he paid 75 cents to be a passenger with a barnstormer.

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Image copyright Loren Long, courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Flying over lakes and fields, his uncle felt as if he were in Heaven, among clouds “like soft blankets, saying, ‘Come on in, get warm. Stay awhile and be a wind flyer too.’” The experience changed him forever. In fact he “cried when they landed because then he knew what it was like to go into the wind, against the wind, beyond the wind.” As a young adult his uncle contributed his dream and his skills to the World War II effort, becoming a Tuskegee Airman, one of the first black pilots in the United States military.

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Image copyright Loren Long, courtesy of Simon & Schuster

As the pair sit in the uncle’s barn, surrounded by his military uniform, leather jacket, and other memories of his flying career—after the war to continue flying he became a crop duster—the pair look through old photographs, seeing once more those young and brave pilots—the Tuskegee wind flyers. Planes are different now, Uncle says, but the clouds remain the same. The boy and his uncle climb to the highest point of the uncle’s barn to watch the jets—and in those moments they once more become the smooth wind flyers, flying into the wind and beyond.

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Image copyright Loren Long, courtesy of Simon & Schuster

In her soaring, rhythmic language, Angela Johnson captures the dreams and yearning of a young boy whose greatest desire is to fly among the clouds. Her combination of straight narration with lyrical lines as he joins the Tuskegee Airman in World War II enhances the sense of achievement and pride the young pilots felt. The structure of the story is well chosen, as relating the uncle’s life from childhood through old age through the eyes of his nephew strengthens the themes of strong familial relationships as well as shared dreams across generations.

Loren Long gives Wind Flyers additional power with his strong, vibrant paintings. Two-page spreads provide a sense of the vastness of the skies that so enticed the young would-be pilot. Even the clouds echo the emotion of the page—fluffy, floating, and alive in the flight scenes while linear, flat, and stationary when the plane and the uncle are earthbound. Realistic portrayals of the boy, his uncle, and the other Tuskegee Airmen are reminiscent of the WPA murals of the 1940s while still setting this book firmly in today for a new generation.

Wind Flyers is a wonderful book to share with aviation buffsm budding historians, and dreamers of all types and would make a welcome thoughtful book for quiet story times.

Ages 4 – 9

Simon & Schuster Books for Young People, 2007 | ISBN 978-0689848797

To learn more about Angela Johnson‘s books for all ages, visit her website!

View a gallery of artwork for picture books and other media by Loren Long, visit his website!

National Aviation History Month Activity

CPB - Biplane side

Head in the Clouds Box Biplane

 

If you love airplanes and flying, you’ll have fun making your own plane from recycled materials! Use your creativity to decorate your plane while you imagine yourself flying through the clouds on a beautiful day. Younger children will have fun sharing this activity with an adult or older sibling too!

Supplies

  • Travel-size toothpaste box
  • 3 6-inch x 1/2-inch craft sticks
  • 2  2 1/2-inch x 7/8-inch mini craft sticks
  • 5 Round toothpicks, with points cut off
  • Paint in whatever colors you like for your design
  • 4 small buttons 
  • 2 mini buttons
  • Paint brushes
  • Strong glue or glue gun

CPB - Biplane front

Directions

  1. Empty toothpaste box
  2. Paint toothpaste box and decorate it
  3. Paint the craft sticks and 5 toothpicks
  4. Paint one small craft stick to be the propeller
  5. Let all objects dry

To assemble the biplane

  1. For the Bottom Wing – Glue one 6-inch-long craft stick to the bottom of the plane about 1 inch from the end of the box that is the front of the plane
  2. For the Top Wing – Glue the other 6-inch-long craft stick to the top of the plane about 1 inch from the front of the plane
  3. For the Tail – Glue one mini craft stick to the bottom of the box about ¾ inches from the end that is the back of the plane
  4. For the Vertical Rudder – Cut the end from one of the painted 6-inch-long craft sticks, glue this to the back of the box, placing it perpendicular against the edge and half-way between each side

CPB - Biplane bottom

To assemble the front wheels

  1. Cut 4 painted toothpicks to a length of ¾-inches long
  2. Cut one painted toothpick to a length of 1-inch long
  3. Glue 2 of the 3/4-inch toothpicks to the back of 1 button, the ends of the toothpicks on the button should be touching and the other end apart so the toothpicks form a V
  4. Repeat the above step for the other wheel
  5. Let the glue dry
  6. Glue the 1-inch long toothpick between the wheels at the center of each wheel to keep them together and give them stability. Let dry

To make the back wheel

  1. Cut two ¼-inch lengths of painted toothpick and glue them together. Let dry
  2. Glue two mini buttons together to form the back wheel. Let dry
  3. Glue the ¼-inch toothpicks to the mini buttons. Let dry
  4. Glue these to the bottom of the plane in the center of the box directly in front of and touching the tail

Display your biplane!

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review

August 23 – Ride the Wind Day

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About the Holiday

Today is set aside to honor the first manned air flight to win a Kremer Prize, a series of monetary awards established by Henry Kremer to commemorate pioneers in human-powered flight and administrated by the Royal Aeronautical Society. The first Kremer Prize was won on this date in 1977 by Dr. Paul MacCready when his Gossamer Condor, piloted by Brian Allen flew a figure eight around two markers one half mile apart. Three Kremer Prize milestones still remain to be accomplished. Today people are encouraged to spend time outdoors catching the wind with a kite, pinwheel, sailboat, or maybe with a toy airplane like the little boy in today’s book!

The Boy and the Airplane

By Mark Pett

 

A little boy receives a present and watches the giver as he leaves. When the boy opens the box, he is thrilled to find a red airplane inside. He runs outside to play with it, zooming it up and down. Laying it on the ground, he then becomes an airplane, zooming around with his arms out as wings.

The boy looks at his plane and wonders. He picks it up and gives it a good, hard throw. It soars upward…upward, its propeller spinning as it speeds away. The boy chases after it then stops. His plane has come to a landing…on the roof. He ponders what to do for a moment, then gets a ladder. He leans the ladder against the house and climbs to the top rung, but he’s not nearly close enough. With child-like persistence, he tries different tactics—lassoing it, hitting it off with a baseball, jumping on a pogo stick, spraying it off with a hose—nothing dislodges his new toy.

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Image copyright Mark Pett, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

He sits down under a tree to think. As he reflects a whirlybird seed spirals down in front of him. He gazes at it, then goes to the garage for a shovel. He digs a hole, tosses the whirlybird in, pats down the dirt and waits. Snow falls on a tiny sapling as the boy in his coat, cap, and scarf keep it company. A future springtime sees both the boy and the tree older, with a little more height and hair and a little more height and leaves, respectively.

The tree grows tall and sturdy, complete with a bird’s nest and little peepers as the boy becomes an adult, complete with suit and tie and wiser peepers. By the time the boy reaches middle age, the tree’s trunk is thick and powerful, and as the boy matures to old age, the tree is strong enough to hold him. The elderly man climbs his tree’s branches and reaches over the eaves. His red plane is waiting for him, a little dusty now and tied down with cobwebs, but just as it was on that afternoon so long ago.

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Image copyright Mark Pett, courtesy simonandschuster.com

With the exuberance of his youth, the man pulls back to give the plane a good, hard throw, but he stops. He considers his recovered toy and keeps it close instead, devising another plan for the airplane. He knows someone else who will like that plane as much as he did. he puts it in a box, wraps it and gives it to his granddaughter.

Mark Pett’s lovely, wordless picture book is a tribute to childhood, imagination, patience, and generational longevity. The subtle, vintage-style drawings in hues of brown on sage green backgrounds, punctuated only with the deep maroon red of the airplane, convey the feeling of permanence and the enduring presence of nature and familial love. The figure disappearing off the left-hand side of the first page after presenting the gift of the airplane to the little boy mirrors the clothes of the elderly man the boy has become as he gives the airplane to his granddaughter, passing down tradition and heritage.

Kids will also enjoy spotting the little bird that follows the boy on every page and hatches its own family in the branches of the mature tree. A close reading reveals deeper meanings and metaphors, comparisons and humor, making The Boy and the Airplane a perfect book for quiet story times or bedtime.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013 | ISBN 978-1442451230

Discover more books by Mark Pett and what’s coming next on his website!

Ride the Wind Day Activity

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Tiny Toy Airplane Coloring Page

 

Is this airplane in the sky or at the airport? Or maybe it’s sitting in a field or at an airshow. It could be an attraction at a fair, or maybe it’s waiting to take you for a ride! Draw in whatever background you imagine and then color it! Get your Tiny Toy Airplane Coloring Page here!

Picture Book Review