To this day, I can't believe my parents allowed it. To this day, I can't believe I did it. What were they thinking?! What was I thinking?!
One fine day when I was still in high school, my friend and I left our tiny community and arrived at another tiny neighboring community. After appropriate procedures and some hefty propeller spinning, the two of us lifted into the air in a two-seater plane built by her father and another man. My friend, at sixteen, had her pilot's license. To see our town and our homes from the air was amazing. All those moments are firmly embedded in my mind and heart as a perfect day.
Nearly sixty years earlier, someone else had what must have been a perfect day. Wilbur Wright Meets Lady Liberty (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt And Company, March 9, 2021) written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor is an exciting recounting of a historical ride lasting less than ten minutes. For every one of those minutes, you, like the spectators and Wilbur Wright, are enchanted and enveloped in euphoria.
It won't work! This guy Wilbur Wright must be out of his mind!
I'll believe it only when I see it!
What will people dream up next? Flying to the moon?
Those were only a few of the thoughts voiced by the crowd gathered on September 29, 1909. They wanted an answer to the question of the Wright Flyer really being able to perform. Wilbur Wright was ready and prepared. He had a canoe attached to the bottom of the plane, just in case something unexpected happened.
On the water, a congregation of boats and ships, including the Lusitania, were waiting for the flight. Newspaper reporters stood by in hopes of headlines. Wilbur Wright took his seat. The combination of the spinning propeller and the runway lifted the Wright Flyer into the air. Soon Wilbur Wright was moving at one hundred feet above land and water.
Below him was a city and its people in miniature. Ahead of him was the Statue of Liberty. Can you imagine being this man? He had to get close but not too close. Even though his focus was firmly on his task, Wilbur Wright could not help but hear the shifting tones of the people below and around him. Gripping the levers, his feet resting on the bar, Wilbur Wright skillfully maneuvered the plane around this immense symbol of all that is supposed to be held true in these United States of America.
The chorus of celebration was a roar (and so was the foghorn from the great luxury liner). When Wilbur placed the plane back on Governors' Island, he was swarmed by news people. Maybe dreams do come true.
For the time you are reading this book, the world around you fades away. Robert Burleigh skillfully takes his research and forms a realistic, historical narrative. He brings the sensory experience of that day felt by Wilbur Wright and the spectators to readers with each sentence he writes. To make it more inviting and inspiring to all ages, he takes the presence of ten-year-old Juan Trippe at this flight and brings his voice into the discussion four times. (Juan Trippe learned to fly and founded Pan American Airways.) Here is a passage.
Careful! Is the Flyer too close? Wilbur hears the
roar of alarmed voices---a roller coaster of cries. He
understands so well: If even one tip of the Flyer's wing
touches the statue, he will spin crazily out of control
and plunge to his death.
Looking at the color palette used in this book, first seen on the matching and open dust jacket and book case, you are reminded of air and water. It's as if artist Wendell Minor has captured those elements and placed them within his paintings. On the right, front, he uses the red canoe placed on the Wright Flyer by Wilbur to add a bit of color to the text, too. On the dust jacket, the text, Wright Flyer and Statue of Liberty are varnished.
On the left, back, is a scene as Wilbur flies over the water. A tug moves from left to right, smoke steaming from its stack. In the background, on the right, is an important historical building known to those who immigrated to the United States. Above this, Wilbur slides through the sky in the Wright Flyer.
On the opening endpapers is a recreation of a newspaper headline from this notable date. It is done in sepia tones. On the closing endpapers, Wendell Minor has created a map of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Hudson River, the East River, Governors' Island, and the Statue of Liberty. It is carefully labeled and there are two explanatory sentences. It shows the route Wilbur flew.
Across the verso and title pages is a panoramic view of the spectators, thousands gathered along the water. Several trees show signs of autumn beginnings. Most of the page is sky, hazy with blue and clouds. Flying high on the left is Wilbur in the Wright Flyer.
These illustrations rendered using
gouache watercolor on Strathmore 500 Bristol paper,
like the text, take you back in time. Some of them are single-page pictures. Others are vast views spanning two pages. The details are highly intricate. Both the Wright Flyer and the Statue of Liberty are breathtakingly portrayed. One wordless two-page image is stunning. (Juan Trippe is always in sepia tones.)
One of my many favorite illustrations is a full-page picture. It is a closeup of Wilbur Wright seated in the Wright Flyer. Dressed in a suit, tie, white shirt, and cap, he looks nothing like a pilot except for the firm, determined set of his jaw and look of concentration in his eyes. Each hand is grasping a lever. His legs are stretched in front of him, and his feet are placed on the bar. Some of the mechanics are visible on the left. Behind him are pieces of sky.
Each time I read Wilbur Wright Meets Lady Liberty written by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendel Minor, I am astonished at the accomplishment achieved on this day. Through the words and images, you can feel the intensity in each of those minutes. At the close of the book is an AUTHOR'S NOTE divided with these headings, Into the Air---Maybe!, September 29, 1909: Look Up, America!, and Some Interesting Facts About the Wright Brothers and the New York Flights. There is also an ILLUSTRATOR'S NOTE. Included is a bibliography for both older and younger readers and a quote source.
To learn more about Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites. Robert Burleigh has an account on Facebook. Wendell Minor has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. On Pinterest Florence Minor, an author and Wendell's wife, has a board highlighting some of their books. At the publisher's website you can view interior images.