Hello, friends! We’re wrapping up Women’s History Month tonight with a moving tale of unsung heroes, Skyward: The Story Of Female Pilots in WWII by Sally Deng.
Billed as “creative nonfiction”, this large-format illustrated chapter book introduces us to three fictional young women: Hazel, a shy American girl of Chinese heritage; Marlene, an English spitfire; and Lilya, a passionate child of Russian farmers. All three are exposed to aviation at a young age, and all three become determined to be pilots, despite the rampant sexism of the day. When WWII breaks out, the three girls attempt to use their hard-earned skills to assist the Allied efforts, but are turned away with laughter and sneers… that is until they each find organizations in desperate need of pilots of any gender. Hazel and Marlene are selected for civilian volunteer groups (WASPs and ATA respectively), and Lilya becomes part of the famed “Night Witches” 588th Bomber Regiment. All three face unique challenges in the line of duty, as well as sadly similar ones (constant harassment and condescension, substandard supplies and conditions, and the ever-present threat of danger that permeates wartime). When the war ends, they are cast aside without a second thought; yet today, we remember and celebrate their sacrifices and courage, in service of not only their countries and the Allies, but of all the future female aviatrixes that followed.
Powerful. It’s astounding how often female servicemembers’ accomplishments are swept under the rug (as we pointed out earlier this month, only ONE woman has ever won the Medal of Honor), so seeing this loving, heartfelt look at the lives of the aviatrixes of WWII is a joy. Deng creates rich, compelling characters to act as the reader’s guides, and illustrates each page with a beautiful sense of detail and scope, breathing life and emotion into each artwork (particularly lovely is a full-page spread of Marlene’s astonished face during her first flight, accompanied by a single line of dialogue: “‘Oh,’ she gasped”). This is a chapter book, and better suited for slightly older bookworms if read in a single sitting, but absolutely a must-read. Baby Bookworm approved!