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On the Wings of Heroes

Review

On the Wings of Heroes

In ON THE WINGS OF HEROES, Newbery Medal-winning author Richard Peck's graceful prose and sly humor recapture the gentle pace and sense of community in Middle America before and during World War II. 

Davy Bowman remembers, "Nobody was a stranger before the war." 

Before the war, kids, dogs and even parents in Davy's Illinois neighborhood play tag and hide-and-seek. The branchy box elder in front of Smiley and Jewel Hiser's house is the neighborhood home base. On hot nights, neighbors congregate on the Hisers' porch, where Jewel tells, in graphic detail, hair-raising stories that frighten the children --- and, sometimes, even Jewel herself. 

Before the war, Davy lives for Halloween, with sacks full of treats, lots of tricks and a few sacred rituals. For Christmas, Davy and his friend Scooter dream about the "two-toned cream and crimson Schwinn bicycle with a headlight like a tiny torpedo" that sits in Black's Hardware Store. When the bike disappears from the window one Saturday afternoon in December, each boy hopes he will receive it for Christmas.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Davy's childhood and the lives of his family, neighbors and friends change forever. New kids called "eight-to-five orphans" (because that's when their mothers work at the war plants) arrive at school. Classmates scour their houses to add to the pile of rubber discards that are being collected there --- though some would be better left at home. Davy's heroes are his older brother Bill and his father Earl. A veteran of World War I, Earl was wounded in battle. Bill has joined the Army Air Corps "for the duration," and the family anxiously awaits word from him after he is shipped overseas. 

As the war progresses, Davy and Scooter hitch wagons to their bicycles and collect scrap for the war effort. During their travels they become acquainted with unusual and memorable characters. When venturing to their neighborhood's "haunted house," they meet Mr. Stonecypher, who looks like "Father Time" and has a voice "like a gravel pit." On a mission to collect milkweed, they stumble across a faded barn with an old jalopy inside. After rubbing off its emblem, they learn that the automobile is a rare Pan American, which was manufactured in their own hometown.

While imagining that they're driving this Pan American, they're greeted with a buckshot blast. Miss Eulalila Titus, "a dried up woman with a face like a walnut," wants to know why the boys are in her barn. After she leads them inside her house, Davy and Scooter are surprised to see shelves and stacks of books. Davy is even more surprised when he learns that Miss Titus knows his father.  

On a later excursion to collect paper, the boys visit the home of Old Lady Graves, who has "just enough metal on her head to build a Jeep." Mrs. Graves is a "hoarder" who has kept every newspaper ever delivered to her --- they even discover a bag of sugar from World War I among her possessions. After filling their wagons with paper and heading for home, Davy and Scooter receive an unexpected visit, which changes how they view collecting for the war effort. 

ON THE WINGS OF HEROES is a tender and timeless story about growing up in a world of uncertainty. It's about family, community, sacrifice --- and genuine heroes of young boys.

Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on February 15, 2007

On the Wings of Heroes
by Richard Peck

  • Publication Date: February 15, 2007
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Dial
  • ISBN-10: 0803730810
  • ISBN-13: 9780803730816