• Non-Fiction
  • Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America

Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America


Born to Fly is the gripping story of the fearless women pilots who aimed for the skies―and beyond.

Just nine years after American women finally got the right to vote, a group of trailblazers soared to new heights in the 1929 Air Derby, the first women's air race across the U.S. Follow the incredible lives of legend Amelia Earhart, who has captivated generations; Marvel Crosson, who built a plane before she even learned how to fly; Louise Thaden, who shattered jaw-dropping altitude records; and Elinor Smith, who at age seventeen made headlines when she flew under the Brooklyn Bridge.

These awe-inspiring stories culminate in a suspenseful, nail-biting rate across the country that brings to life the glory and grit of the dangerous and thrilling early days of flying, expertly told by the master of nonfiction history for young readers, National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin.--from the publisher

288 pages               978-1626721302               Ages 10-14

Keywords: planes, aviation, biography, women, careers, trailblazers, heroines, flying, nonfiction, pilots, 10 year olds, 11 year olds, 12 year olds, 13 year olds, 14 year olds, gender roles, gender equality, race, competition, Social Studies Curriculum, Character Building Curriculum, self reliance, self image, self confidence, self respect, self esteem, self acceptance

Featuring illustrations by Bijou Karman.


“When a Southwest Airline’s plane’s engine exploded mid-flight this week, pilot Tammi Jo Shultz made an emergency landing. She is a former Navy pilot and one of the first women to fly an F/A-18 fighter jet.

Shultz is an anomaly among airline pilots — and not just because she was able to stay calm in such extreme circumstances.

As a female pilot, Shultz is part of a small group. Just 6.3% of commercial pilots and 6% of non-commercial pilots in the United States are women.”

— MarketWatch, “Female Pilots are a rarity at commercial airlines in the U.S.” (4/22/18)

“There were about nine thousand licensed pilots in the United States in 1928. Fewer than one hundred of them were women. Of these, twenty of the best entered the Women’s Air Derby”

“There you stood on the edge of your feather

Expecting to fly

— Neil Young (1967)

Do you have any idea who the first woman to be featured on a Wheaties box was? Hint: Read this book.

Steve Sheinkin has done it again! BORN TO FLY is a thrilling true story of pioneering women flyers in the 1920s. Of these brave and crazy women, Amelia Earhart is the name most readers will already recognize.

The story opens with glimpses of the childhoods of a half-dozen of these women, moving back and forth between early flying experiences and the record-breaking flights that led them to the starting line at Clover Field in Santa Monica, CA. The goal of these twenty elite female pilots in August, 1929 was to follow a nine-day route, including dozens of takeoffs and landings, to the finish line in Cleveland, OH.

“In their own way...these pilots were like flappers. They were rebels, having fun on their own terms. They were weaving through obstacles and chasing their dreams.”

Over those nine days, there were destroyed planes, maps blown out of the hands of pilots, bad storms, wrong turns and, occasionally, cows in the way. Yet “Fifteen of the twenty pilots who’d started the Women’s Air Derby made it to the finish line. This was the highest percentage of finishers in any cross-country air race to date.”

The author explains how air racing in the 1920s was a major spectator sport in the U.S. These cross-country races were akin to today’s Super Bowls.

“Aviation was new and incredibly dangerous, so when daring pilots set out to race unreliable planes over mountains and across deserts, it made for thrilling drama. These multi-day races featured fierce rivalries back-and-forth battles for the lead, violent storms, and mechanical failures in the air. There were always crashes in these races. In almost every race, at least one pilot was killed.

The first Women’s Air Derby would be no exception.”

Early on, readers need to pay attention in order to keep the pilots and their respective exploits straight. But I found that it was well worth the effort because the book’s strength is its unrelenting focus on the flying and the race rather than on tangential details of the pilots’ biographies.

I’ve read that this week’s Election Day results in Virginia may well lead to the long-stalled ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. BORN TO FLY is a notable women’s history book about gutsy women who opened up possibilities for others of their gender to challenge the status quo. It will fit nicely in a display with this quartet of related titles I also recommend:

AMELIA AND ELEANOR GO FOR A RIDE by Pam Munoz Ryan and Brian Selznick (1999)




Recommended by; Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

To see more of Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com

User reviews

Have you read this book? We'd love to hear what you think. Click the button below to write your own review!