Review of Race Through the Skies: The Week the World Learned to Fly

Race Through the Skies: The Week the World Learned to Fly
by Martin W. Sandler
Middle School    Bloomsbury    185 pp.    g
7/20    978-1-5476-0344-2    $24.99

The rate of innovation during the first decade of flight is as astounding now as it must have been at the time. Sandler’s compelling look at 1909’s weeklong air meet — the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne, in ­Rheims, France — captures the wonder and excitement of this early aviation event, which filled newspapers across the globe. Each chapter follows the fifteen pilots through a single day of races, challenges, and record-setting flights. Sometimes-harrowing descriptions of crashes, near crashes, and other close calls add to the tension, while Sandler’s clear expository prose illuminates both the mechanical marvels of the age and their brash and courageous pilots. Opening chapters focusing on Wilbur Wright’s 1908 flights in France twelve months prior to the festival and on Louis Blériot’s and Hubert Latham’s competing attempts to cross the English Channel provide readers a primer on the technical and human challenges of early heavier-than-air travel. Sidebars throughout break up the narrative with additional background on many of the participants, influencers, and aeronautical innovations that made the eight days at Rheims the turning point in air travel’s practicality. Sandler concludes with biographical information on these early flight pioneers, including their later accomplishments. Substantial back matter (though no detailed source notes) rounds out this impressive and highly readable look at an important inflection point in history. Pair with Sheinkin’s Born to Fly: The First Women’s Air Race Across America (rev. 9/19).

From the July/August 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Eric Carpenter
Eric Carpenter
Eric Carpenter is the school librarian at Fred A. Toomer Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia.

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