Review of The Girl Who Could Fix Anything: Beatrice Shilling, World War II Engineer

The Girl Who Could Fix Anything: Beatrice Shilling, World War II Engineer
by Mara Rockliff; illus. by Daniel Duncan
Primary    Candlewick    48 pp.    g
9/21    978-1-5362-1252-5    $17.99

Text and pictures work together to capture the life and spirit of a remarkable woman. As a child in England, Beatrice ­Shilling (1909–1990) “wasn’t quite like” other children, preferring tools to candy. She grew up to be so clever with tools and so interested in fixing engines and machines that at fourteen she bought and rebuilt her own motorcycle; was later accepted to university to study engineering (art shows Beatrice walking into a room full of men as the text states that she “wasn’t quite like” the other students); and subsequently got a job in the Royal Aircraft Establishment. During WWII, when it was discovered that Spitfire and Hurricane planes had a fatal flaw in their fuel delivery systems that caused the engines to fail in crucial moments, it was Beatrice who solved the problem. She devised a simple restrictor — “a little piece of metal with a hole in it” — that was cheap and easy to install. “When Beatrice roared up on her motorcycle with her bag full of tools, pilots knew they didn’t have to worry anymore.” The text is lively and succinct, full of vigorous action verbs. The expressive illustrations convey time and place beautifully and are infused variously with humor (such as when apprentice-engineer Beatrice, helping to bring electricity to villages, falls through a ceiling) and drama (as in a stunning double-page spread of London aflame during the Blitz). An author’s note stresses the support Shilling received from individual women and women’s ­organizations, enabling her to break through the barriers she faced; a list of selected sources completes the book.

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is a contributing editor to The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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