Review of You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen

weatherford_you can flyYou Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen
by Carole Boston Weatherford; 
illus. by Jeffery Boston Weatherford
Intermediate, Middle School    Atheneum    82 pp.
5/16    978-1-4814-4938-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-4940-3    $10.99

Thirty-two poems written in the second person bring to life the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Pilots, bombardiers, instructors, maintenance workers, and navigators trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, as part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program to fly and maintain combat aircraft: “If Carver can make paint / from clay and plastics from soy, / then the school Booker T. founded / can surely 
make you a pilot.” This flew in the face of prevailing racism and societal beliefs about the capacities of African American men, but the program succeeded, and black pilots flew missions over Sicily and North Africa. Weatherford’s informative, evocative poems follow the Airmen from the early vision (“The sky’s no limit if you’ve flown / on your own power in countless dreams”) to the flyers’ experiences at home and abroad, with poems about Joe Louis and Lena Horne reminding us that the Airmen were also fighting another war in this country — against prejudice. The concluding poem, “A Long Line,” places the Tuskegee Airmen among “a long line of warriors,” from ancient Egyptian pharaohs to Toussaint L’Ouverture, from the U.S. Colored Troops of the Civil War to the Harlem Hellfighters of World War I. And the Tuskegee Airmen, in turn, paved the way for the full integration of the military in 1948. Jeffery Boston Weatherford’s dramatic black-and-white scratchboard illustrations will draw in browsers, and an author’s note, timeline, and further resources are appended.

From the July/August 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider

Dean Schneider teaches eighth grade English at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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