Friday, September 8, 2017

Poetry Friday with a review of You can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen

First and second person narratives in historical fiction can give readers a very powerful reading experience. These types of stories can bring history alive so that we can get a sense of what it was like to live in the past. Today I bring you a piece of historical fiction that is presented to the reader in the form of blank verse. It is a remarkable story that everyone, even people who don't care for history, will find interesting.

You can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen
Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Poetry
For ages 9 to 12
Simon and Schuster, 2017, 978-1481449380
Becoming a pilot is not easy, and if you are a person of color it is particularly hard. There are only 130 black pilots in the nation after all, and thousands of people who think that you “not fit to fly” because of the color of your skin. You cannot give up on your dream though. “The engine of your ambition will not brake / for walls of injustice – no matter how high.”
   So off you go to the Tuskegee institute with a Bible and a “box lunch from your mama,” and there you spend your days being told what to do by Chief Anderson. Chief Anderson knows how to fly and how to train pilots, and it turns out he also knows how to win the favor of the First Lady. Eleanor Roosevelt goes up in his plane and she sees first hand that black pilots can fly. Eleanor tells her husband the president about her experience and he insists that black pilots should be given “a shot.”
   Thus it is that the Tuskegee Experiment begins and it is up to you and the rest of the cadets to prove to the world what you can do. There are only thirteen of you, and your officers are all white; they are all eager not for the medals of a general, but for the opportunity to make history. They have a lot to prove and they are counting on you to prove that they were right to put their faith in you. They are not the only ones who are watching. Indeed, “The eyes of your country are on you,” and the “hopes of your people / rest on your shoulders.” It is a fearsome burden.   
   Days, weeks, and months of classwork and training go by and then you hear about the attack on Pearl Harbor and suddenly more is at stake. A lot more. You are eager to do your part and you follow the war news, and yet nothing happens. You wait and then, at last, the words that you have been waiting for, “Move Out,” are finally heard. You join four hundred of your fellow pilots from the 99th Fighter Squadron and get on a train bound for New York.
   Written in the second person using a series of poems, this truly special book shows readers what it was like to be a Tuskegee airman before, during, and after WWII. Readers will come to appreciate the challenges that faced African-Americans who wanted to be licensed pilots. They will read about the obstacles that were put in their way even when they wanted to serve their country during wartime. It is sobering to realize that these pilots, who did not lose a bomber in 200 of their 205 missions, and whose military records were exemplary, came home only to face racism and segregation.



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