I love a mighty girl character or real-life role model for my girls. These girls all dared to fly at a time when flying was a great adventure. What makes girls daring enough to say “What If … Women Were Aviators?” And how can we encourage this? I’ve picked three books to explore this idea … a picture book, easy chapter book biography, and historical fiction middle grade chapter book. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Fabulous Flying Females: Women Aviators Books for Kids
Picture Book for Girls Who Ask “What If?”
The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung, illustrated by Julie Kwon
“No one could see her eyes, hair, or skin color when Hazel was thousands of feet above. Up here, people were just tiny specks against a vast land. And inside her cockpit, Hazel felt like a dragon chasing down the sun. She leaned into the wind, pushing her plane to go faster. She looked at the horizon, and willed the world to move forward.”
During a time of rampant racial discrimination, Hazel, nevertheless, achieved what seemed impossible. Hazel Ying Lee was the first Chinese American woman to fly for the U.S. military. She joined the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots during WWII, testing planes after they came off the assembly line to discover manufacturing defects. It was dangerous work but it allowed her to do what she loved most, fly! [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar by Margarita Engle and Sara Palacios
This is the true story of a teenager, Aída de Acosta, and how she became the first woman to fly a motorized aircraft, an airship. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Bessie, Queen of the Sky by Andrea Doshi and Jimena Duran, illustrated by Chiara Fabbri
To become the first black woman pilot, Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman had to learn French to attend pilot school in Paris because it was the only flight school that would accept girls. She received her pilot’s license at age 29 and lived from January 26, 1892, to April 30, 1926. This beautifully illustrated picture book of Bessie Coleman will inspire readers that anything is possible if you don’t give up. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine by Heather Lang, illustrated by Raul Colon
On November 19, 1916, at 8:25 a.m., Ruth Law took off on a flight that aviation experts thought was doomed. She set off to fly nonstop from Chicago to New York City. Sitting at the controls of her small bi-plane, exposed to the elements, Law battled fierce winds and numbing cold. When her engine ran out of fuel, she glided for two miles and landed at Hornell, New York. Even though she fell short of her goal, she had broken the existing cross-country distance record. And with her plane refueled, she got back in the air and headed for New York City where crowds waited to greet her. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Aim for the Skies: Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith’s Race to Complete Amelia Earhart’s Quest by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger
What are the chances that two women would simultaneously decide to fly around the world, following Amelia Earhart’s quest? It’s 1964 and this is now an air race between two women, Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith, to become the first female to fly around the world. Both ran into problems and challenges from sandstorms to gas leaks. The timing of their two flights made this into a “race” but in fact, their planes and their routes were different. Both women completed their difficult journeys, setting speed and distance records along the way. This was a race where there were clearly two winners! [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Zephyr Takes Flight by Steve Light
Zephyr, a little girl, loves airplanes. She makes them, plays with them, and hopes to fly one day. But no one in her family wants to play airplane with her. When she has a spectacular crash, she is sent to her room … where she finds ways to fly! A girl version of Where The Wild Things Are! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares
In eighteenth-century France, hot air balloons have captured people’s hearts. The balloonists are heroes but they are all men. Sophie Blanchard changes this. She was the first woman pilot, making sixty-seven flights in hot air balloons. This is a beautiful and inspiring picture book biography that also details a little about what life was like during Napoleon’s reign. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]
Biography Chapter Books for Girls
Who Was Amelia Earhart? by Kate Jerome
I like this short chapter book biography series with text broken up with illustrations on each page. It gives an honest and thorough overview of her life with lots of interesting details about her life growing up that kids can relate to. [easy chapter book biography, ages 8 and up]
Sarla in the Sky by Anjali Joshi
The first early reader from multicultural publisher Bharat Babies, Sarla in the Sky is a beautiful story that is inspired by the real-life adventures of India’s first female pilot Sarla Thakrla. These beautiful hand-drawn acrylic illustrations combined with poetic prose make this the ideal book for any young child interested in flight. This beautifully illustrated children’s book makes an excellent addition to the bookshelves of young readers aged five and up and is a great gift for a classroom looking to incorporate STEM into classroom learning. [early chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Chapter Book for Girls
Promise the Night by Michaela MacColl
Beryl Markham, if a half-blood (ok, reading a lot of Percy Jackson right now), would have been a child of Artemis. Her true story reads like an adventure heroine of any age but particularly for her time, at the turn of the century. Her life was lived spectacularly, making Amelia Earhart seem tame by comparison. Raised in part by Maori warriors as a tween in Kenya, a female horse trainer, and then a great aviator adventurer. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
More Great Books on Female Pilots
Born to Fly: The First Women’s Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
” This will put some new names before many readers; I especially was intrigued by Pancho Barnes and Marvel Crosson and might have to see if there are any books about them! The details of the race are very exciting, and there is a good mix of what is going on and what the women felt abou tit. The research is remarkable– luckily, there are memoirs by the flyers and lots of newspaper articles detailing every move! This reminded me a lot of Speno’s The Great American Foot Race: Ballyhoo for the Bunion Derby! which is set during this era. Great nonfiction choice for readers who want an exciting tale!” [nonfiction middle grade, ages 10 and up]
A Race Around the World: The True Story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland by Caroline Starr Rose, illustrated by Alexandra Bye
In 1889, New York reporter Nellie Bly—inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days—began a circumnavigation she hoped to complete in less time. Her trip was sponsored by her employer, The World. Just hours after her ship set out across the Atlantic, another New York publication put writer Elizabeth Bisland on a westbound train. Bisland was headed around the world in the opposite direction, thinking she could beat Bly’s time. Only one woman could win the race, but both completed their journeys in record time. (from publisher) [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Thank you to readers Maria, Monise, Mel, Alex, and Kellye for their great book suggestions for more great Mighty Girl role models. I am especially excited to learn of women of color who were aviator pioneers and yet relatively unknown.
Flygirl by Sherri L Smith (older middle grades) and Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone, which is nonfiction about women who tried to become part of the space program.
Another picture book suggestion is ‘Talkin Bout Bess’ the story of Bessie Coleman, the first black female pilot by Nikki Grimes. Review by Randomly Reading.
Bessie was the first female African American pilot AND the first African American to hold an international pilot license…And it is an inspirational story – education was a luxury back in the early part of the 20th century for many kids who had to earn money to help support their family, but Bessie persevered – walking miles and miles to school, when she could attend, and to pick up and return the laundry her mother did to earn money. from Randomly Reading
I second Mel’s suggestion of ‘Almost Astronauts.’ Also, Tami Lewis Brown’s picture book, ‘Soar, Elinor,’ is the thrilling true story of Elinor Smith, America’s youngest pilot–girl or boy. The acclaimed ya novel, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein, also prominently features a teen girl pilot during WWII.
How about Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss. Maggie Gee dreamt of flying as a child. When she grew up, she was one of two Chinese American women to serve with the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in WW2. It is a wonderful picture book. Thank you to Monise Seward for this recommendation!
Great topic, and lots of great titles here! I Code Name Verity was one of my favorite books read last year, and I especially liked the pilot/engineer Maddie’s voice. I also liked Soar Elinor, Talkin’ Bout Bessie and Almost Astronauts (and the rest of Tanya Lee Stone’s work.)
Amelia Lost, by Candace Fleming, is also a very gripping and well-told biography of Amelia Earheart, of the woman behind the myth, chock full of wonderful photos.
I found this on the excellent blog, The Non Fiction Detectives:
In 1930, when other girls are content to play with dolls, Betty June Skelton played with her metal plane. And so begins this engaging picture book biography about a woman who dared to dream high and became the first lady of firsts.
Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton by Meghan McCarthy
Middle Grade Fiction about Female Aviators
The Amelia Six by Kristin L. Gray
From Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Millie has won a trip to the Amelia Earhart museum in Atchison, and arrives with her father (and his CPR dummy) in a chicken truck after their car fishtails in horrible winter weather. Thea arrives with her aunt in a motorcycle sidecar. Cassie is with her parents, who are busy professionals. Nathalie brings her pet rat, and sisters Robin and Wren are YouTubers. All are interested in flying and aeronautics, and have been chosen by the Ninety-Niners who help run the museum to come and visit. They are met by Birdie, the elderly caretaker, her nephew Collin, housekeeper Edna and chef Perry. They are all pleased to be in the home of their idol, and are having fun completing a scavenger hunt when things start to go wrong. A pair of goggles that are on display before being turned over to the Smithsonian go missing, and Birdie is slipped a drug that makes her pass out. Everyone is a suspect, and the girls set out to solve the mystery. This leads them to explore the house, look into Amelia’s history, and question the motives of everyone. Will they be able to find the goggles before they are to be handed over?” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.