It’s always a good day when a book from Barrington Stoke lands on my desk so when two touched down together I was extremely pleased. Aside from their publisher, the books have little in common except a very loose flying connection – and exciting plots.
The Last Hawk by Elizabeth Wein is another of her stories of aviation and war. Nearly eighteen-year-old Ingrid is an expert glider pilot and is counting down the days until she can become a certified gliding instructor. Not only will this allow her to fly in the cause of patriotism, but it will also help keep her safe from the very regime she wishes to serve. For Ingrid has a stutter and, as she knows from the experiences of others in her village, the National Socialist Party is bent on creating a pure Aryan population and is quite capable of considering her a liability.
Elizabeth has wound her story around Second World War history, using the real-life test pilot Hanna Reitsch as her centrepiece. However, Ingrid’s story, though grounded in historic possibility, is fictional and focuses not only on her joy at being in the air, but also on the choices she must make based on the information to which she becomes privy.
Karen McCombie’s main character in The Girl with her Head in the Clouds actually existed. At sixteen Dolly Shepherd stumbles into a career as an aeronaut, jumping from hot air balloons and descending by parachute. Dolly has always been fearless and sought adventure, not an easy path for a girl at the beginning of the twentieth century. Karen, however, demonstrates to her readers that it is always possible to break free from society’s restrictions and expectations in this fictionalised account of Dolly’s early life.
Dolly’s exploits begin by chance one day in 1904 in the skies above London’s Alexandra Palace. Captain Gaudron, a well-known hot air balloonist, offers her the chance to descend from the skies and Dolly knows immediately that this is the life for her. Regardless of the opinions of others or the dangers she faces, she continues. But how long can this existence last?
Barrington Stoke defines these books as having a reading age of eight. But that should not suggest to anyone that they are anything less than completely satisfying stories. I enjoyed them both very much indeed. The Last Hawk is more complex and ideal for teenagers while enthusiastic younger readers will enjoy the sheer joie de vivre of The Girl with her Head in the Clouds which is illustrated by Anneli Bray.