Book Review: My Brothers' Flying Machine

Reading Level

Ages 4-8

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Book Review: The Wright Brothers

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This great new book from Little, Brown tells the story of the Wright brothers' success from the point of view of Katharine, their beloved (and extremely helpful to their pursuits) younger sister. Katharine it was who lived in the house with them, cooking and cleaning for them while they ran their bike shop and build planes. Katharine it was who encouraged them when they were at their bleakest. Katharine it was who took after their mother and lent a helping mechanical hand when things needed fixing or tinkered with.

This beautifully illustrated, well-constructed book tells the story of the invention of the airplane in blank verse. It's a long poem that's not really a poem. It shows wonderful insight into the struggles and challenges that Orville and Wilbur faced. It also implies the hardships that loving Katharine endured to help her older brothers see their dreams come true.

The book contains within its blank verse most of the important events in the Wright brothers' story. It's not just a long poem, and it's not just "the story from little sister's point of view." It is a retelling of the facts, with new perspective added.

The author, Jane Yolen, is an award-winning author of more than 200 books, many of them for children. Yolen is a veteran and knows how to convey even the most complex concepts (such as aerodynamics) in the most easy-to-understand way. Yolen, who has always had a masterful way with words, turns her ear and attention to this subject, with rave results. (One phrase that stands out is a description of a toy that the children's father had brought home. This was a flying toy that Orville and Wilbur threw in the air so much and so recklessly that it broke. But, as Katharine tells it, the two boys kept on "tinkering till the toy worked better than when Papa first brought it home.") The first scene and the last scene make appropriate bookends as well.

Jim Burke, the illustrator, has hit a home run on his first trip to the plate. This is his first children's book, yet he succeeds exceedingly well in capturing the essence of the Wright family, the airplane invention, and all that surrounded both elements of American history. The art is especially lifelike, approaching still-life status, the expressions on the people's faces and the attention to detail masterful. (One especially nice touch is a drawing of loving Katharine reading a letter from Orville and Wilbur, who are testing their plane in North Carolina, while she is seated on the front steps of the family home back in Ohio. Parked right outside the gate is a bicycle—built by Orville and Wilbur.)

In the end, this book makes a good addition to a study of Orville and Wilbur, by including their loving sister and eyewitness to history.

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