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[DiverseKidLit] Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Tuskegee Airmen in “Wind Flyers”

Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson and Illustrated by Loren Long

Myra here.

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We have just recently launched our new reading theme until end of September. Since we are also featuring narratives about soldiers, police officers, the military (in addition to detectives, puzzles, mysteries and mayhem), I thought that this story about the Tuskegee Airmen will be a pretty good fit, especially so for DiverseKidLit.

Wind Flyers

Written by: Angela Johnson Illustrated by: Loren Long ISBN: 068984879X (ISBN13: 9780689848797). Literary Award: Alabama Author Award for Juvenile (2010)
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me. 

The story was told with the voice of a young boy describing his Great-Great-Uncle who used to be a “wind flyer” – or, to be more precise, a “Tuskegee wind flyer.”

Even as a young boy, Great-Great-Uncle loved to feel the wind in his face and to fly to the heavens. Yet, without the narrative having to explicitly articulate it, there were few opportunities for a coloured person to really fly into the skies:

That is, until the war happened, and Uncle enlisted to become a Tuskegee Airman. I didn’t even know what this was until I read this gorgeously-illustrated book.

The Author’s Note found at the end of the book provided greater elaboration as to why this unit was significant in America’s history:

In January of 1941, under pressure from the NAACP and other groups, the U.S. Army Air Force created the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron. The 332nd Fighter Group had been formed in 1942, making it the only four-squadron fighter group in the Army Air Force. These pilots were trained on an airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama, and thus called, the Tuskegee Airmen; although the army had no intention of ever using them in battle.

However, the universe had bigger and bolder plans for these elite, highly talented group of individuals who were able to overcome all odds, and eventually fought to serve their country with honour and integrity.

I especially enjoyed how personal and deceptively simple the narrative is. There is no feeling of victimization, just a clear intention to serve, and the luminous resilience of a group of people who continually need to prove their worth with calm dignity, and simply being. A beautiful book that you need to read if you haven’t already, and a lovely addition to your personal or classroom library.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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