Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Saturday, January 5, 2019

They Aimed High

It's important to stop and realize the choices afforded us every day have not always been available.  Many of the opportunities are here now because of a path built by others.  These people dared to be different.  These people followed a vision they had for themselves not one dictated by acceptable social norms.

Three courageous women decided to pursue their passion for flying.  Skyward: The Story Of Female Pilots In WWII (Flying Eye Books, September 4, 2018) written and illustrated by Sally Deng is based on their remarkable actions.  They and their accomplishments are worth remembering. 

First Flight
Three girls looked to the sky and wondered what it must feel like to be up so high.  What would it be like to cut through clouds so swiftly that the wind struggled to keep up?

We begin in the year 1927 in San Francisco, California.  Hazel is at the air field with her father on a Saturday for their weekly outing.  A Curtiss Jenny lands and its pilot invites her for a closer look.  She knows she will be a pilot.  On the other side of the pond in England, Marlene's brother lands a plane in their field.  He invites her to take a ride.  She knows she will be a pilot.  In Russia a pilot has to make an emergency landing in a tiny town.  One of the many children gathered around the smoking plane is Lilya.  She can't stop making drawings of flight and that plane.  She knows she will be a pilot.  Three separate incidents shape three lives.

One of them with the help of her sibling, learns to fly.  Another has to work to pay for lessons and read about flying when she can't afford them.  The third must learn in secret, until before her eighteenth birthday, at a flying club.  She finally announces the club has asked her to be an instructor.  In 1939 war changes the world and challenges these three young women.

Each one of them assists other women in the war effort.  It is especially tense for Marlene and Lilya.  All three would rather be flying but their inquiries are quashed until the military becomes desperate for pilots.  Hazel begins training with the Women Airforce Service Pilots. (Hazel's friend, Elizabeth, also a pilot, is not allowed to fly.  She is an African American.) Marlene applies and passes a physical for the Air Transport Auxiliary.  Lilya writes a letter to Colonel Marina Raskova

the most famous aviatrix in the Soviet Union.

For the first time in her life she leaves her community to journey by train to Moscow.  She is accepted by Colonel Marina Raskova herself.  All three suffer ridicule, taunts, ill-fitting clothing and even staying in a cowshed for lack of proper housing  They endure and embrace training and begin to fly.

Hazel performs flight tests when no man will.  There are times when ferrying planes, she has to guard the plane with pistol in hand.  Marlene ferries planes too.  She flies in the fog when others stay on the ground.  Maintaining radio silence in the heavy fog causes her to crash one time.  Lilya and her navigator fly at night, dropping bombs along enemy lines.  They are called Night Witches.  At the end of the war, the numbers assigned to the deeds of these three woman are impressive.  They built a path for others.

Opposite the title page author Sally Deng tells us this book is a 

work of creative fiction.

It contains real events experienced by real people. It's important when she begins with three different occasions in 1927.  This allows readers to be a part of following how the three girls' initial dreams come true.

With the passing of the years, Sally Deng weaves the girls' lives together flawlessly including specific examples to support their experiences.  One of them can hardly stand the frustration felt when male doctors don't seem to know a thing about women.  Another receives a necklace for good luck from her mother on the eve of her departure.  The conversations within the narrative serve to illuminate the girls' personalities and captivate readers.  Here are two paragraphs.

When the sun set, the dangerous part of their mission would
begin.  Pilots and their navigator climbed into their PO-2s.  Lilya sat
in front, Tatyana in her own seat behind her.  Each team followed the 
same plan.  They would fly out to the enemy line and get as close to
the German camps as possible.  Before they got into hearing range,
Lilya would shut off the engine and glide her plane down towards
the target. wsssssssssssssssssshhhhhhh

The thunderous wind in her ears was a whisper to those on the
ground.  When they were close enough, she pulled a lever that would
drop bombs down below.  If the lever became stuck, Tatyana would
stand up and push the bombs out by hand.

When you hold this book in your hands, the front image, a compilation of the three women, what they endured, and their achievements, beckons to readers.  The texture of the book case, the cloth spine and varnished elements supply a pleasing tactile sensation.  To the left, on the back, between text normally found on the front flap of a jacket, four women wrestle with a barrage balloon.

Across the opening and closing endpapers shades of the title text color on the front of the book case is used to create a pattern of rows of planes and military symbols.  On the title page the three featured women are positioned on the wings and body of an airplane.  Opposite the Contents a child, her back to us, wearing a pilot's helmet, jacket and too-large boots is watching the shadows of planes fly overhead.

On the page with the first five sentences Sally Deng introduces us to the Hazel, Marlene and Lilya as girls looking skyward.  Readers can't help but be enthralled with the exquisite details in every illustration.  The research used to replicate settings, architecture, clothing and the airplanes is evident.

We are shown large landscape views and stunning close-ups.  Many times we are looking like a bird or a pilot at a scene below us.  To show the passage of time or to emphasize a portion of text, Sally Deng groups very small illustrations together.  For several of the chapter beginnings the three women, even though they are in separate locations, are placed together.  The heavier, matte-finished paper is a wonderful selection to highlight her fabulous illustrations.

One of my many, many favorite pictures spans two pages.  It is when Marlene is flying for the first time as a passenger in her brother's plane.  Across both pages as a background streaks of pale blue, blush, cream and white replicate the sky.  On the left is a close up of Marlene's face, her hair blowing in the wind and crossing the gutter.  Her eyes are covered by goggles, but her mouth is shaped in a circle of wonder. 

Even having read this book, Skyward: The Story Of Female Pilots In WWII written and illustrated by Sally Deng, three times you still feel what these three women felt; their passion, fear, tension, frustration, pride, determination and pure love of flying.  This story, their stories, are sure to inspire others to step outside what is expected.  Readers will want to know more, and an author's note and bibliography offers them that option.  I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal book collections.

To learn more about Sally Deng, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Sally maintains an account on Instagram. You can read more about her at the publisher's website along with viewing multiple interior images.  You can view additional pictures at Penguin Random House.  Sally Deng is interviewed at AI-AP|DART and the Foundation for Asian American Independent Media.

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