Taking off Airborne with Mary Wilkins Ellis

Emily Arnold McCully

Book - 2022

"A biography of Mary Wilkins Ellis, a woman pilot who flew planes for Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II and ran an airport on the Isle of Wight."--

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Review by Booklist Review

Mary Wilkins was an eight-year-old English girl in 1925, when she first went aloft in an airplane. At 16, she became a pilot and flew for pleasure until 1939, when WWII began and civilian pilots were grounded. Wilkins and other women joined the civilian Air Transport Auxiliary, delivering planes to Royal Air Force (RAF) airfields throughout the country. The work was challenging, but by flying up to 15 unfamiliar planes daily, even in bad weather, she honed her skills and gained a reputation for navigating through fog. After the war, she became a flight instructor in the RAF. While the clearly written narrative includes dramatic moments (an engine failure, a near collision, the thrill of piloting a Spitfire for the first time), the underlying story involves a woman who defied social stereotypes and made significant contributions to her country. McCully's illustrations, precise pen-and-ink drawings with delicate watercolor washes, capture the look of the period in homes and clothing as well as in the air. This handsome picture-book biography introduces a courageous woman who followed her dream.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In early 20th-century Britain, Mary Wilkins Ellis (1917--2018) talks her father into letting her ride in an airplane even though she's only eight, and she subsequently earns her pilot's license as a young adult. As WWII continues, women aren't allowed to join the RAF, but English manufacturers begin to build "hundreds of new kinds of warplanes" that desperately need civilian pilots: "Mary let out a whoop. She had a license. She could apply." Delicate, softly tinted pen, ink, and watercolor spreads by Caldecott Medalist McCully make Mary's work seem as calm as the green fields she passes over as she ferries aircraft large and small to RAF bases. Even close calls, as when an engine cuts out in midair, convey steadiness in a picture book about women pilots, all portrayed as white, who were able to do what they loved most in an era when not many women's dreams were fulfilled. Back matter and references are included. Ages 6--8. (Feb.)

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Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 3--6--The personality and details of Mary Wilkins Ellis's story fly off the page in this illustrated biography of her life, from her first ride in an airplane to her work in the Air Transport Auxiliary during the first world war. McCully recounts Ellis's life in a very matter of fact way that will suit the upper elementary readers who can handle longer paragraphs and don't need flourishes in the prose. The gorgeous end papers of various airplanes set the tone; the watercolor and ink illustrations spotlight and punctuate the text that recounts the highs and lows of this intrepid woman. Ellis's story is an important one in history, and back matter gives readers more information if they are seeking it. VERDICT Add to all biography collections looking for more military-era women's history.--Aryssa Damron

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