November 9 – It’s National Aviation History Month

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About the Holiday

It seems 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. It wasn’t until 1680 that actual human flight was abandoned when an Italian mathematician determined that human muscles were incompatible with flight.

Zip ahead about 100 years and the first hot-air balloon took flight, which led to 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. Given this long history, it’s astounding to think that only 58 years span the time from that modest 12-second flight by the Wright Brothers to the first manned space mission by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin! To celebrate the month, visit a local museum or read up on some of the pioneers of early flight—like the courageous women in today’s book.

Aim for the Skies: Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith’s Race to Complete Amelia Earhart’s Quest

Written by Aimée Bissonette | Illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

 

Jerrie Mock was only seven when her first airplane ride convinced her she wanted to be a pilot when she grew up. At first she only dreamed of flying across Ohio, but later, when she followed reports of Amelia Earhart’s daring flights, she decided she too wanted to see the whole world.

In 1952, Joan Merriam was fifteen years old when she took her first airplane ride and was invited by the pilots to see the cockpit. That’s all it took for Joan to know she wanted to be a pilot too. She began flying lessons and was in the air before she even got her drivers license. By 1963, Joan was working as a professional pilot and bought a plane of her own. One of Joan’s goals was to “circle the globe following the exact route” her idol Amelia Earhart had charted.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

By the time Jerrie was thirty-seven, she had three children and ran a flight business with her husband, Russ. One night when she told Russ that she was bored, he joked, “‘Maybe you should get in your plane and fly around the world.’” Jerrie took him up on that. Both women spent months planning and charting their flights. Neither one knew that the other was getting ready for the same flight until their plans hit the media. Suddenly, what they had both thought was a solitary pursuit became a race to the finish.

Joan took off on March 17, 1964 from an airstrip in Oakland, California accompanied only by two stuffed bears. Two days later, surrounded by reporters asking if she thought she could beat Joan, Jerrie climbed into her tiny plane and took off too.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Jerrie’s troubles began right away. First, her radio didn’t work then bad weather kept her grounded for six days. “Where was Joan?” she wondered. While Joan’s flight began smoothly, a gas leak brought her down to earth for a week while the tank was repaired. Back in the air, Jerrie seemed to suffer problems every day. “She battled dangerous ice buildup, burning radio wires, and bad weather. She flew into a sandstorm over the Arabian Desert and couldn’t see.” But she encouraged herself to stay calm and use her instruments. Joan was having it no easier. “Heavy rains pounded her pane. Her windshield leaked. Water puddled at her feet. When she finally made it to Brazil, she was delayed again. This time by a government revolution!”

Day by day both women battled the elements and equipment failures but kept flying. Everyone around the world seemed to be watching the race. Russ told Jerrie she had to fly faster—that Joan was winning. In Pakistan, people told Joan that Jerrie had landed there five days earlier. Finally, on April 17, twenty-nine days after she had left, Jerrie returned to Ohio to a hero’s welcome. Reporters and crowds pushed to see her. “Jerry’s heart pounded. She had done it. She had flown around the world. She had won the race.”

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Where was Joan? She “was in Lae, New Guinea—the last place Amelia Earhart was seen alive—when she heard the race was over.” Even though she knew she was behind Jerrie, “the news was still hard to take.” She sent Jerrie a congratulations telegram, and then left for Guam. There, she walked and “thought about her childhood dream. She thought about the race and she thought about losing.”  Then she thought about why she had undertaken the flight. She had done it to honor Amelia Earhart. Even though Jerrie had won the race, Joan thought that didn’t make her a loser. She “could still do what she set out to do.”

Joan landed back in Oakland, California on May 12, 1964. Her plane was in such bad shape that the Coast Guard had to dispatch a plane to guide her in. Joan was also welcomed by cheering crowds and reporters. Both Jerrie and Joan had accomplished incredible feats. Jerrie “became the first woman to fly around the world,” and Joan—”following Amelia’s exact route along the equator”—was the first “pilot—man or woman”—to fly that distance solo. And both women received thanks from Amelia’s sister, Muriel, for honoring Amelia—”a pilot who, like them, chose to follow her dreams.”

An Author’s Note describing the differences in Joan and Jerrie’s routes and aircraft as well as a bit more about their lives after the historic flight and a map outlining each woman’s flight pattern follow the text. Resources for further reading are also included.

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Image copyright Doris Ettlinger, 2018, text copyright Aimée Bissonette, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Aimée Bissonette’s thrilling biography of two woman, two flights, and one race will keep young readers on the edge of their seats. Riveting details reveal the staggering dangers the women faced as well as their astonishing courage, dedication, and persistence. Bissonette’s fast-paced, electric storytelling puts kids in the cockpit as Joan and Jerrie cross the globe. As Jerrie wins the race and Joan reevaluates her goal, Bissonette makes important and welcome points about the nature of competition, keeping one’s eyes and heart on an original goal without getting caught up in distracting hype, and having the self-confidence to believe in oneself and recognize one’s accomplishments.

In her realistic, richly colored watercolors, Doris Ettlinger follows Jerrie and Joan as they experience their first airplane rides that determine their futures, plot their flights around the world, and take off. The obstacles each woman dealt with are dramatically portrayed as winds whip trees, blinding rain and sand storms thwart progress, and mechanical failures keep the women grounded. Children get a look at landscapes from Bermuda, the Philippines, Africa, and Pakistan as Joan and Jerrie complete their flights. Expressive depictions of Jerrie’s and Joan’s emotions show readers the determination, pressures, and ultimate joy each woman felt during these historic months of 1964.

An exhilarating biography and adventure story rolled into one, Aim for the Skies is a book that will inspire young readers to keep their eyes on their goals despite obstacles and setbacks while reassuring them that winning is accomplished by being true to yourself. Children who love history, flight, biographies, and adventure will find this a compelling book to add to their home bookshelf. Classroom, school, and public libraries will want to include Aim for the Skies in their collections for story times and lessons.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363810

Discover more about Aimée Bissonette and her books on her website.

National Aviation History Month Activity

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Flying is Fabulous! Maze

 

Can you pilot the airplane along its route to the airport in this printable Flying is Fabulous! Maze?

Flying is Fabulous! MazeFlying is Fabulous! Maze Solution

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You can find Aim for the Skies at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 9 – It’s National Aviation History Month

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About the Holiday

National Aviation History Month and is dedicated to exploring, recognizing and celebrating America’s great contributions and achievements in the development of aviation. Human-powered flight has come a long way from its earliest roots in kites and gliders. Hot-air balloons and biplanes gave way long ago to more and more sophisticated airplanes, jets, and rockets that blast into space. To celebrate the month, visit a local museum or read up on some of the pioneers of early flight—like the courageous woman in today’s book.

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine

Written by Heather Lang | Illustrated by Raúl Colón

 

Entertained crowds knew Ruth Law for the loops, the spiral dives, and even the dip of death that she performed in her airshow. But for Ruth these stunts were like standing still. She “longed to fly to get somewhere…somewhere far away.” She decided to make a trip from Chicago to New York City. There weren’t too many aviators brave enough to attempt such a long flight in the type of biplane Ruth flew. They feared that if something went wrong with the engine, they’d never realize it in time to land. But Ruth knew her plane inside and out and figured she “could anticipate what would happen to the motor by the sound of it.”

A trip like the one Ruth envisioned posed another problem, though. Her small biplane held only 16 gallons of gasoline—not enough to make the journey. She asked Glenn Curtis, who built her plane, if she could buy his latest model. This much bigger plane held 205 gallons of gas and had already proven itself for long-distance flight. But Curtis refused. He didn’t believe Ruth could handle the “powerful machine on such a long flight.”

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Image copyright Raúl Colón, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Ruth was not to be deterred. She added three more gas tanks to her plane so that it could hold 53 gallons, installed a cover to protect her legs, and created a scrolling map of the route. Aviation experts said she would fail, but Ruth disagreed. “‘What those men can do a woman can do. I can do,’” she said. On a windy November 19, 1916, Ruth took to the cockpit to begin her nonstop flight. Although she was a little afraid of what lay ahead, she took off, believing that “the scare is part of the thrill” of any experience.

Ruth had counted on the strong wind to help push her farther faster, but just as quickly as it had blown up, the wind stopped. Ruth wondered if she would have enough gasoline after all. Flying over one landmark after another, Ruth felt exhilarated. As she passed over Cleveland, Ohio, though, “the oil gauge registered zero pressure. Something was wrong!” The sounds of her plane’s motors told Ruth a different story. She kept flying.

Soon she was passing over Erie, Pennsylvania—the site of the record-breaking flight by Victor Carlstrom. Even the icy stings of the frigid air couldn’t diminish her excitement. In a moment she was east of Erie and had broken Carlstrom’s record. The thrill of her achievement was tempered, however, by the sputtering of her engine. While there was still a little gas in the plane, it was “too low to feed into the engine.” Ruth tipped the plane forward to give it more gas. Two miles from Hornell, New York, the nearest landing spot, “the engine grumbled its last roar, leaving her with nothing but the silence of the wind.”

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Image copyright Raúl Colón, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Ruth steered the plane as it glided into Hornell—512 miles from Chicago. She was the new American nonstop flight record holder. Ruth’s original plan had been to fly to New York City, so after refueling and grabbing a bite to eat, she took off once again. Weighed down by the full gas tank, the plane barely made it over a hill and tall trees in her path. This was as close to crashing as Ruth ever came—or ever wanted to be.

People along the route had already heard about Ruth Law, and they came out to watch and wave. With darkness closing in, Ruth decided that she would have to land short of New York City. She touched down in Binghamton, New York and took up the rest of the flight the next morning. As a thick blanket of fog obscured her view, Ruth flew lower and lower to get her bearings. When she finally spied the tip of Manhattan, she glided in and “circled around the Statue of Liberty toward Governor’s Island.” Of Lady Liberty, Ruth said, “‘She smiled at me when I went past. She did!…I think we both feel alike about things.’”

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Image copyright Raúl Colón, text copyright Heather Lang. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Cheered by a celebratory crowd and brass band, Ruth landed on the welcoming earth. Despite the icicles that hung from her hair and the numbing cold, Ruth smiled and waved. She realized then that not only had she broken an aviation record, she had made a point for all women. She later put her thoughts into words: “The sky was my limit and the horizon my sphere. It’s any woman’s sphere if she has nerve and courage and faith in herself.”

An Author’s Note about Ruth Law and her life, complete with photographs, follows the text.

Heather Lang’s thrilling account of Ruth Law’s record-breaking flight from Chicago to New York will have young aviators on the edge of their seat. Law’s flight was filled with suspense from its inception as an idea in a young woman’s mind to its final touchdown, and Lang deftly incorporates the facts as well as Law’s feelings into her well-rounded story. Along the way, readers learn about Ruth and also about early aviation. Ruth Law’s own words, included throughout the story, will inspire children as they see that even though she lived long ago, her thoughts and ideas still ring true today.

Young readers will be fascinated by Raúl Colón’s glowing illustrations of Ruth Law and her flying machine. His detailed drawings of Law’s biplane give children an excellent view of the open-air craft, fostering a true understanding of the courage it took for her to undertake such a flight. Images from Law’s viewpoint in the cockpit allow readers to vicariously travel her path to self-realization and a record-breaking flight.

Ages 5 – 8

Calkins Creek, 2016 | ISBN 978-1620916506

Check out Heather Lang’s website for more about her and her books. You’ll also find links to a video and photos about Ruth Law, a map of her route, and information about her plane as well as a Teacher’s Guide.

Fly along with Ruth in this Fearless Flyer book trailer!

National Aviation History Month Activity

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Head in the Clouds 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

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

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