While Hazel’s interest in aviation was encouraged by her father, Lilya’s Russian rural setting seemed incongruous to a career as a pilot. Meanwhile, Marlene was inspired by her older brother’s interest in planes. However, it seems unlikely that any of the three pioneering aviatrix, introduced in Sally Deng’s exceptional Skyward, could have imagined tthey’d be known for their brave efforts during WWII.

Early training and determined applications, meant that each were accepted into their respective country’s war aviation programmes, eventually. Hazel Ying Lee’s application was delayed because of her ethnicity and her gender. However, her ‘amazing flight record qualified her for training’. It took a further twenty years for black women to be admitted to US aviation programmes. Hazel’s WASP role was to deliver planes across US bases, including test planes that she had to trial. Then she towed targets for ammunition practice.

In Britain, Marlene, ferried planes and refugees and patients, flying a variety of planes, often with little notice. She flew with radio silence ‘for security reasons’ and through ‘barrage balloons. She would fly ‘four to five flights a day’.

Yet Lilya was part of the all-female 588th regiment, the only active combat female flying crew during the war. Her job was to fly to the border of German camps, in huge, wooden Mule aircraft, and unload bombs. Not only could the lever to eject the bombs stick, but these were night missions…

Through their shared hardships, the girls formed deep bones – and were able to keep pushing forward.’ These are stirring stories, with empathetic, Lowry like illustrations within a proud, presentation biography. Bookwagon loves and is inspired by Skyward. We suggest readers at home and school will feel the same way.

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The Story of Female Pilots in WWII

Sally Deng

(Flying Eye Books)

Three girls looked Skyward, wondering what it must feel like to be so high… Little did each know that their determination and skills would result in roles as trailblazing pilots. What’s more each would be a pioneer WWII pilot, serving their home nations in a global conflict.
Sally Deng profiles the service of these three girls during WWII. WASP Hazel delivered ‘planes to different bases‘, performed flight tests and towed targets that would be fired at with real ammunition! Meanwhile, Marlene ferried ATA planes and transported ‘refugees and patients to hospitals’. At times she had to read a flight manual only moments before boarding a new variety of aircraft.
However, Lilya was part of the all-female 588th regiment, the ‘only female combat regiment in the entire world’. This regiment flew ‘the Mule, made entirely of wood and very slow’. What’s more, they were required to ‘fly out to the enemy line and get as close to the German camps as possible’. Their engines would be shut off so that their aircraft glided. If the lever stuck that dropped bombs below, they would have to push the bombs out by hand.
Their stories, from their early years, the obstacles they faced, to their determination and the bonds they formed, is told brilliantly by Sally Deng. Like Kari Herbert with We Are Explorers, she writes and illustrates her book. Furthermore, she introduces us to such brave, forward- thinking pioneers!
Bookwagon recommends Skyward highly. This is an ideal book to gift, to read together and to include within any reading about WWII history.


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