I’m starting National Poetry Month with a picture book biography written in free-verse by Margarita Engle, the Young People’s Poet Laureate, as she shines a light on a little-known first woman of flight and inspires us all to soar.
Title: The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar
Written By: Margarita Engle
Illustrated By: Sara Palacios
Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)/March 2018
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: flying; first female pilot; biography; courage
One day, a girl named Aída was strolling on a lively street in a lovely city when she glanced up and was dazzled by the sight of a huge balloon that glided as gracefully as a whale-shaped moon.
Brief Synopsis: The Flying Girl recounts the story of how young Aída de Acosta became the first female to pilot a motorized aircraft.
Links to Resources:
- Make and fly a paper airplane;
- Learn about flying and the history of flight;
- Aída flew a dirigible; learn about blimps, zeppelins, and dirigibles;
- Discover other female aviators and their flying firsts.
Why I Like this Book:
As Engle recounts in this inspiring, lyrical biography, all Aída needed to pilot a motorized dirigible was “courage and a chance to try”. We learn in the Afterword that Aída did so despite her parents’ disapproval and months before the Wright Brothers undertook the much better-known first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. I think children will enjoy learning about this brave young Cuban-Spanish-American woman, who followed her dream to soar in the skies. And perhaps they’ll be inspired to soar towards their dreams, too.
Palacios’ bright, mixed media illustrations capture the excitement of this aviation first. I especially like that she set many of the illustrations against a sky-blue background. Many also include bright red birds – a detail younger children especially will enjoy following.
A Note about Craft:
In The Flying Girl, Engle focuses on one event in the life of Aída de Acosta, the short time she spent in Paris where she discovered Alberto Santos-Dumont’s dirigible, convinced him to teach her to fly, and then flew the dirigible by herself. In the Afterword, we learn the rest of her story, but I believe Engle keeps unnecessary details out of the text so the reader better experiences Aída’s journey from dream to soaring.
Although Aída is a teen in the story, well above the normal picture book main character age range, Engle focuses on her interactions with her mother when she discovers Aída’s aspirations, she renders Santos-Dumont childlike by referring to him only by his first name in the text, and she includes “excited children” and “giggling children” as onlookers. Perhaps most importantly, Engle addresses children in the last lines of the story, as Alberto declares Aída “a brave inspiration for all the girls of the world!”
Read a wonderful guest post on “poetry that crosses borders” by Engle on the Grog and her reasons for hope for #OwnVoices poetry in a Nerdy Book Club post, both last fall. To read a recent poem building a bridge of peace by Engle and to post your own poem about “choices”, visit René LaTulippe’s No Water River. See my reviews of a few of Engle’s other works: All the Way to Havana, Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics, and Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!