Born To Fly: The First Women’s Air Race Across America

Roaring Brook. Sept. 2019. 288p. index. notes. photos. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781626721302.
Gr 5-8–Using a collected biographical approach, Sheinkin presents the history of early American aviation and the changing role of women in society, culminating in the Women’s Air Derby of 1929. Women made up a small percentage of pilots in the 1920s, and societal norms prevented them from competing in air races until the 1929 derby. The 20 women who participated in the derby came from all walks of life. Most Americans recognize the name Amelia Earhart, but Sheinkin introduces many other female pilots, including Marvel Crosson, Ruth Elder, Bobbi Trout, and Pancho Barnes, who all took part in the daring and fearless days of flight in its infancy. Flight races were particularly intense for spectators and participants alike as the inherent danger usually meant that at least one pilot died per race. While women received the right to vote in 1920, the facade of female frailty was still a widely held belief in 1929 and used to justify protesting the all-female air derby that stretched from Santa Monica, CA, to Cleveland. The question of sabotage, engineering design flaws, and interpersonal relationships made an inherently difficult undertaking exponentially more dangerous for all the pilots in the 1929 derby.
VERDICT Sheinkin’s thorough research and attention to detail make the era come alive for readers. Fans of Keith O’Brien’s Fly Girls will greatly enjoy this book. Highly recommended for all middle school libraries.

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