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Flygirl [Paperback]

Sherri L. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 21 2010
All Ida Mae Jones wants to do is fly. Her daddy was a pilot, and years after his death she feels closest to him when sheÕs in the air. But as a young black woman in 1940s Louisiana, she knows the sky is off limits to her, until America enters World War II, and the Army forms the WASPÑWomen Airforce Service Pilots. Ida has a chance to fulfill her dream if sheÕs willing to use her light skin to pass as a white girl. She wants to fly more than anything, but Ida soon learns that denying oneÕs self and family is a heavy burden, and ultimately itÕs not what you do but who you are thatÕs most important.

Read Sherri L. Smith's posts on the Penguin Blog

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-A dynamic, heartfelt novel.+ -The Washington Post

-A thrilling, but little-known story that begs to be told. The book is at once informative and entertaining.+ -School Library Journal

About the Author

Sherri L. Smith was born in Chicago, Illinois and spent most of her childhood reading books. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she has worked in movies, animation, comic books and construction. Sherri’s first book, Lucy the Giant, was an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults in 2003. The Dutch translation, Lucy XXL (Gottmer, 2005), was awarded an Honorable Mention at the 2005 De Gouden Zoen, or Golden Kiss, Awards for Children’s Literature in the Netherlands. Sherri’s novel, Sparrow, was chosen as a National Council for the Social Studies/Children’s Book Council Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People and is also a 2009 Louisiana Young Readers Choice Award Nominee. Upon the release of Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet in February 2008, Sherri was featured as a spotlight author for The Brown Bookshelf's Black History Month celebration, 28 Days Later. Flygirl, an historical YA novel set during World War II, is her fourth novel.

“Cloudberries,” Ladybug Magazine (2001)

Lucy the Giant (2002)

Various stories, Bart Simpson Comics (2002)

Sparrow (2006)

Hot Sour, Salty, Sweet (2008)

Flygirl (January 2009)


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5.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too Jan. 26 2009
Format:Hardcover
World War II is raging across the globe and Ida Mae Jones is doing everything she can on the homefront to support the war effort. With her brother, Thomas, off fighting in the Pacific, Ida Mae wants nothing more than to see the boys come home safely.

Donating bacon grease and nylon stockings is not enough. Ida Mae cannot just sit at home when she knows that so many are dying overseas. When she sees an article in the newspaper announcing a new army initiative - WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) - she knows that she has found her calling. Like the Russians, Uncle Sam is finally letting women do more.

Flying has always been a passion for Ida Mae, since the first time her daddy took her up in his "Jenny," a Curtiss JN-4. She might not have a license, due to a sexist flight instructor, but Ida Mae is an experienced pilot. In fact, she feels more at home in the sky than on the ground. Her father flew to dust crops, and now Ida Mae wants to fly in the army.

There is just one problem. WASP is a program for white women, and Ida Mae is colored.

With her light skin and brown hair, she just might be able to pass for a white woman. To pursue her dream of becoming a WASP, Ida Mae must deny her identity and face unimaginable dangers. Graduating from the rigorous training in Sweetwater, Texas, to become a full-fledged WASP will be no easy task.

Can one colored girl prove to herself and the world that the sky really is the limit?

Sherri L. Smith smoothly incorporates extensive historical research to paint a bold and extraordinary portrait of the courageous women of the WASP. Like her idols, Jackie Cochran and Nancy Love, Ida Mae is a plucky, adventurous heroine, defying race and gender barriers to surpass even her own expectations.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  39 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best YA Novel I Have Ever Had The Pleasure Of Reading Sept. 13 2009
By Lola's Mom - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have so many good things to say about this book, I don't know where to start... First, I loved the heroine, Ida Mae. Ida is a small town farm girl whose father introduced her to crop dusting at an early age. Ida loves to fly and when America enters World War 2, she gets tired of collecting silk stockings and cleaning houses and decides to join the WASP. Despite her amazing flying abilities, the WASP will turn her away simply because she is half black. Ida's desire to fly and aide her brother overseas in the only way she knows how overcomes her fears and she passes herself off as white so that she may do so. Her mother gets upset, her best friend gets upset, but Ida doesn't let them stop her and off she goes Sweetwater, Texas to fly.

On top of getting a firm feel for life at Avenger Field during world war 2 and the flight training and procedures, readers also get a look at what it is like to be black in the 1940s. Ida is always having to worry about her hair curling too much or somebody figuring out her secret because back then, her secret could get her killed. On top of the racial tension is the fact that she is a woman to boot. I doubt anybody had it harder back then. Women in general had it rough, but being a black woman... most of us would not have had Ida's courage.

Also in the story is how Ida deals with conflicting emotions regarding her family in New Orleans (she feels she is denying her own heritage and family, especially when her mom comes to visit and has to act like her maid) and her family in Sweetwater. How would her newfound white friends act if they knew the truth? My only complaint about this novel is we never found that out.

There is also a situation with the loss of a friend. Ida has to deal with her grief as she watches a friend die and her conflicting emotions about the situation as she realizes it could happen to her.

I absolutely loved the courageous flight Ida takes with Lily in a B-29. Great way to end this novel. Readers see how the WASP was literally used and discarded. I feel for all the women that were involved. Yet, this does not stop Ida Mae. Despite the fact that the Army betrays her and her female comrades in the end, Ida Mae still wants to fly, not as a white woman, nor a black woman, but as Ida Mae.

Ms. Smith, I would like to see a sequel to this book. I would like to see Ida Mae go work for Walt and come clean about her heritage. I'd like to see her overcome the 1950s and keep on flying despite all odds. We need more books with strong female heroines, white, black, latina.... Thumbs up, Ms. Smith.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing story April 6 2010
By Eclectic Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
FLYGIRL is, quite simply, remarkable. It succeeds on many levels: as history of a little known aspect of World War II, as insight into being a patriotic black woman who yearns for the white male world of flying, and best of all, as pure, engrossing story.

Sherri L. Smith has clearly done her research in depicting the WASP experience, and she brings Ida Mae and her friends to vivid life. The world Ida Mae inhabits at the beginning of WWII is very limiting for too many people. By the end of the story, it's clear the world has changed. Ida Mae is not going to go back to cleaning houses, and I like to think of her creating a path that will let her fly not as a "colored" girl passing for white, but as simply Ida Mae Jones, pilot.

I noticed that an earlier review by a flying buff criticized the story for not showing pre-flight checks, but the gentleman must not have read carefully. The flight checks are there, and given exactly as much weight as they deserve by showing that the girl pilots know what they're doing.

I look forward to reading more of Sherri L. Smith's book
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richie's Picks: FLYGIRL April 16 2009
By Richie Partington - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"'Yes, indeed.' Audrey salutes me this time. 'Isn't it funny, ladies, how there's always a man at the bottom of everything we do?'"

After reading FLYGIRL, I still have not the slightest desire to learn to fly an airplane. There are just too many problems that can pop up with such complex mechanical things. When something unexpected occurs with my Toyota pickup, I simply pull over and pull out the cell phone and the AAA card. One doesn't have the same luxury with an airplane, as we see all too vividly in FLYGIRL, Sherri L. Smith's high-flying tale of a young, light-skinned, southern woman of color who "passes" for white during World War II so that she can compete for a position flying in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. Ida Mae Jones and her fellow women pilots go through months of rigorous training so that they can assume responsibility for military flight tasks on the homefront. The WASP pilots thereby free up the Army's male pilots so that the men can then head into combat overseas in the European and South Pacific theaters.

Ida Mae grew up in her father's crop duster -- after her father blazed his own trail by heading north to Chicago in order to get pilot's training and a license -- and she lives to fly. But now her father is dead in a tractor accident, there is gasoline rationing because of The War, and her big brother, Thomas, has enlisted as a medic. Free as a bird in the air, this young woman is one smart, careful, and damned-near fearless flygirl. Ida Mae's difficulties are, instead, encountered when she is back on the ground:

"Pretending to be white is like holding your stomach in at the lake when the boys walk by. You know they're looking, but you don't want to be seen the way you really are, tummy all soft and babyish, with a too-small chest and behind. So you stand up tall, suck it in, tilt it forward, and try to do the best you can."

I love how Ida Mae offers this comparison with which we can all relate. How many times do we feel the need to pretend we are someone we aren't for the sake of feeling better (or less bad) about ourselves? As we know, such a survival strategy might help in the short run, but what are the long-term psychological effects of being forced to deny or hide our identities because of discrimination? We can only imagine the psychic costs to Ida Mae and countless real life Americans who have had to either hide a piece of themselves or else forego life-changing opportunities. It is for this reason that we evolved for the better, from the "melting pot" philosophy of assimilation that was widely taught during my childhood to the "salad bowl" philosophy of multiculturalism that has been the norm during my children's formative years. It is for this reason that for so many of us of my generation the REAL American Dream is the one that we heard articulated from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the week before I began third grade:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Sherri L. Smith's epilogue to FLYGIRL leaves open a door -- just about the size of an airplane hanger -- for the possibility of a sequel. I, for one, have not begun to get my fill of Ida Mae Jones who, despite being a fictional character (I have to keep reminding myself that, no, she didn't get to vote for Obama last year.), leaves so many important personal issues unresolved when -- with the conclusion of the Second World War -- her story ends all too soon.

What will happen after the story's over between Ida Mae and her mother and between Ida Mae and Jolene (her best friend from back home) when she returns to her family's strawberry farm in Slidell, outside New Orleans? The repercussions of Ida Mae's deciding to pass for white and join the military have shredded her relationships with the two women with whom she has always been closest in life. Given her lofty achievements in the WASP program, can Ida Mae possibly cope with reverting her identity back to that of a young southern woman of color -- with all of the humiliating subservience and dangerous hatred that entails in 1940s Louisiana? Or must she, instead, either totally sever herself from her roots or else try to build an ever-more-complicated web of deceit in order to both maintain relationships with her friends and family while continuing to slip through doors that were otherwise still padlocked, dead bolted, and barricaded against most women -- of any color -- far into my own lifetime?

Fortunately, so much progress has been made since World War II -- both for women and for people of color.

And yet, as of 2009, we still have so far to go. When we look at the numbers, things are still totally unequal at the top: women now hold 17 of 100 U.S. Senate seats, 74 of 435 U.S. House seats, 1 of 9 U.S. Supreme Court seats, and occupy 8 of 50 Governor mansions. But Ida Mae Jones, gutsy, smart, brave, sassy, and determined, is just the kind of young woman to show us how to get it done right.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A breathtaking must-read! Nov. 9 2010
By Dee18 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sherri L. Smith's `Flygirl' is definitely going on my 2010 favourite's list. I'm also counting it as one of my all-time favourite Young Adult reads. . . heck, it's a favourite book all round.

The book opens in December 1941, on the day that Pearl Harbor is attacked by the Japanese. Not long after the attack the US army develop the WASP program - Women Airforce Service Pilots. Twenty-year-old Ida Mae Jones dreams of the sky. Her dearly-departed Daddy taught her to fly for crop dusting. . . but Ida dreams of more. She dreams of heading to Chicago to get her pilot's licence and joining the Women's Auxiliary. But she has one big strike against her - Ida Mae is black. The Civil Rights Movement isn't even a blip on the American radar and there's no way in hell Ida Mae will fly in the skies if she presents herself as a woman of colour.

But Ida's Daddy was a light-skinned black man (from years of his family trying to climb the social ladder by marrying and procreating with whites). Ida has `good hair' and can pass for Spanish blood. So Ida Mae lies. She pretends to be white in order to join WASP. Ida turns her back on everything she knows and everyone she loves in order to help her country and earn her place in the skies.

Ida joins WASP and flies to her heart's content. . . but if it means refusing her family and heritage, if it means acting white to get ahead in life. . . then what is Ida fighting for in the first place?

Everything about this book is breathtaking. Even the front-cover looks like a movie-poster and has a Rosie the Riveter feel to it. Sherri L. Smith's writing is divine - at once a beautiful slice of 1940's life and a jarring examination of race-relations in the Deep South.

The history is incredible - and as a history geek, I languished in the factoids. I learnt so much in this book and it never once felt like a history lesson. The WASP program is fascinating. These ladies were not only feminist pioneers; they were down-right incredible. The WASP's were stationed from California to Delaware and their main jobs were to tow targets for artillery practice, fly test planes, weather-check missions and ferry airplanes from factory to coast. They were a really integral part of the US air force and their contribution was awe-inspiring. . . especially when you learn about their role in major historical events like flight-testing the plane that would eventually drop the atom bomb. Absolutely incredible!

The WASP's wartime efforts were even more incredible when you think of the obstacles they had to face. Such as small-minded army-men who didn't like `flygirls' crowding their skies and rising above their stations. While reading `Flygirl' I felt my heart swell with female empowerment. It's just that kind of book - Sherri L. Smith leaves you breathless on the page like you really are up in the cockpit doing a loop-de-loop. So many times throughout this book I had tears in my eyes just from the pure pride I felt for these women. Especially Ida Mae, who has the most incredible (if fictional) story of all.

There's certain nostalgia for the war-time period. It's seen as being a time when men were men, and their women waited at home for their fellas to return safe and sound. I loved that Sherri L. Smith at once embraced the nostalgia while also smashing the rose-tinted glasses. Ida Mae and all of the WASP girls are quite gung-ho patriots, and I loved reading about their determination to do right by their country and lend a helping hand.

But at the same time, the story is told from Ida's perspective as a black woman playing white. She witnesses the glaring racism that's prevalent in the US army. Reading about WWII from a black woman's standpoint really is a kick in the guts and eye-opening, a very different WWII perspective than I've ever read before. Ida's grandfather warns his dark-skinned grandson to rise in the ranks when he joins the army, because nobody will care about grunt colored soldiers. The `n' word is used frequently and casually by Ida's white classmates, and Ida always notices signs that warn `no colored's allowed'.

While `Flygirl' is a great historic trip and a story about one girl's dream of flying. . . the real heart of the novel is in Ida's moral dilemma. She is a black woman playing at being white. It's all well and good that her lie has enabled her to fly - but at what cost if it means turning her back on her family and lying to herself?

This book is incredible. It's the sort of book that inspires you to get up on a soap-box and hand it out at street corners. I feel like it should be required-reading for little girls everywhere - a book about following your dreams and staying true to yourself. . . but more than that it's a book about female pride and empowerment - a little slice of history that illustrates how brilliant and ballsy our foremothers were.

Bravo, Sherri L. Smith. Bravo - I tip my wings to you!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing historical adventure March 13 2009
By A. E. Vincent - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It's unusual for a YA novel to be about an adult woman -- and although Ida Mae is young, she is definitely an independent, grown person. FLYGIRL still works as a young adult novel, however, because the story is about first setting out into the world and trying to balance between the girl you have been and the woman you want to be. The dilemmas Ida Mae goes through while passing for white are multidimensional, and I liked that Sherri Smith did not present the readers with a pat answer by declaring that Ida Mae was "wrong" or "right" in her decision. The '40s era is so well-portrayed that I have found myself humming big-band music ever since I started reading. And the friendships Ida Mae builds with characters like Patsy, Lily and Walt -- as well as her friendship with Jolene at home -- all feel very true. And I was fascinated by the WASP program and astonished that we haven't heard more about these courageous women. My only complaint was that I wanted MORE of this book, but I am very happy with FLYGIRL as it stands.
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