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Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII


Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII

War stories are often dominated by men. Understandably so, as in the past they have been the ones on the frontlines of the fighting. When learning about World War II, children will here about the Rosie Riveters who worked in factories for the war effort or the nurses who tended to the wounded. They headed war bond drives and grew vegetables in victory gardens.

In SKYWARD: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII by Sally Deng, children will have the opportunity to learn about another less-publicized role that women played: flying planes in the service of their country.

The book tells the true story of three female pilots who were part of World War II. There’s Hazel, who is part of the United State’s WASP program and helps ferry aircrafts around the country. ATA pilot Marlene delivered planes and military personnel in England. Russia’s Lilya flew a wooden plane, bombing Nazi troops who invaded her country. There names are not in the history books, but their stories are an essential part of the war effort.

"Deng does a good job of emphasizing the friendships....By sharing their stories --- and her beautiful illustrations --- Deng gives credit where credit is due."

While the three women had very different childhoods they all had one thing in common: They were fascinated by airplanes and wanted to fly. Hazel was hooked after seeing planes at an airfield in San Francisco. She told her father she was going to learn to fly one day and he was supportive. Marlene’s brother was a pilot and took her up in his plane, teaching her to fly it. Lilya secretly joined a flying club in school, keeping her interest from her family.

When war came, the three instantly wanted to do their part to help their countries, but it was not without its challenges. The organizations they join, newly formed for World War II, are still finding their footing and aren’t well organized. The women struggle to find uniforms that fit and have to make adjustments themselves. They’re also judged harshly by some military men, who cannot wrap their minds around women flying airplanes.

Of the three stories, Lilya’s is the most intriguing. She flew wooden planes over German enemy lines to drop bombs with her friend Tatyana serving as her navigator. She also had to cope with the grief that comes to losing friends in combat, something Hazel and Marlene did not face because they stayed stateside. Their work was also oftentimes dangerous. Hazel flew planes that had been repaired, taking to the skies in risky aircrafts. Marlene almost encountered a Nazi fighter plane in the skies over England. Each faced their own personal battles.

Deng does a good job of emphasizing the friendships the three had with the other women they served with. Despite the difficulties they faced from the outside world, they always had the support of their units and developed deep bonds through the missions they flew and the downtime they spent with each other. At the end of the war, their services are no longer needed and they are pushed abruptly from the units they joined.

Here is where their story ends, and the reader is left wondering if Hazel, Marlene and Lilya were ever honored for their service or continued to pilot planes in some fashion after the war. The trio were clearly trailblazers for women and the work they silently did significantly helped the war effort. By sharing their stories --- and her beautiful illustrations --- Deng gives credit where credit is due. Children will now learn that women did more than build planes during World War II. They flew them, too.

Reviewed by Liz Sauchelli on December 12, 2018

Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII
by Sally Deng