Review of Jack Knight’s Brave Flight: How One Gutsy Pilot Saved the U.S. Air Mail Service

Jack Knight’s Brave Flight: How One Gutsy Pilot Saved the U.S. Air Mail Service Jack Knight’s Brave Flight: How One Gutsy Pilot Saved the U.S. Air Mail Service
by Jill Esbaum; illus. by Stacy Innerst
Primary    Calkins/Astra    40 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-68437-981-1    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-63592-567-8    $11.99

In 1921, a perilous coast-to-coast airplane relay pushed a handful of pilots to their limits. If successful, the publicity stunt would prove that the U.S. Air Mail Service was superior to its locomotive counterpart, quelling concerns of cautious politicians. Esbaum’s conversational present-tense narration places readers in the middle of the action alongside Jack Knight, the only pilot able to ­complete two legs of the relay (before being relieved), from Nebraska to Illinois, all the while braving frigid temperatures, snowstorms, and unfamiliar terrain. “Jack wipes slush from his goggles. He peers ahead, but can no longer see the horizon through the swirling snow…Will he find it before the plane runs out of fuel and crashes?” Harrowing details, such as ­snow-covered runways, miscommunication between airfields, and Knight literally freezing to his biplane’s seat, amplify the ultimate success of the daring pilot. Innerst’s mixed-media illustrations, primarily rendered in watercolor, ink, and pencil, are expressive and ­atmospheric. Rather than depicting objects and characters realistically, he manipulates their sizes, shapes, and colors to accurately reflect the mood of any given scene. Tight ­framing of Knight crammed into his cockpit is informative and discomforting, and effectively portrays the rudimentary nature of aircraft at the time. A thrilling and well-told moment in the history of information distribution across the United States. Back matter includes an author’s note, ­highlights of U.S. mail history, a bibliography, an illustrator’s note, and photo credits.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Patrick Gall
Patrick Gall works as a librarian for children in preschool through eighth grade at the Catherine Cook School in Chicago.

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