American Wings: Chicago’s Pioneering Black Aviators and the Race for Equality in the Sky

Putnam. Jan. 2024. 384p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780593323984.
Gr 7 Up–By following the lives of skilled auto mechanics Cornelius Coffey and Johnny Robinson, nurse Janet Harmon Bragg, and teacher and social worker Willa Brown, the authors have created a wonderfully detailed and evocative review of the true story of four Black Americans between the world wars who pioneered aviation in spite of many obstacles placed in their paths. Inspired by the achievements and legacy of Bessie Coleman that were celebrated in a 1928 Memorial Day tribute, Coffey and Robinson began a collaboration that grew to include Bragg and Brown. Their journeys culminated in avionics school and airport ownership, partnership with the Tuskegee Institute, and international acclaim. This title showcases how determination and ingenuity triumphed over segregation in Chicago during the nascent period of the aviation industry. The extensive investigation of primary and secondary documents, including contemporary newspapers and photographs, has allowed Smith and Wein, both authors of YA novels about young people becoming pilots, to give a vivid and accurate recounting of the struggles and triumphs of the desegregation of Chicago aviation. The lengthy end notes, bibliography, and substantial authors’ note underscore the level of research completed.
VERDICT Fans of the authors’ previous books will appreciate this nonfiction title, as will fans of aviation history. Recommended for all collections.

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