cover image for FlygirlSmith, Sherri. (2010) Flygirl. New York, NY: Speak

Plot Summary:

There’s a war on, and the United States Army is looking for pilots.  Ida Mae Jones knows she’s the woman for the job; back when her daddy was alive and she was allowed to fly, she was the best pilot there was – except for maybe him.  But in 1941 no one is going to let a woman fly for the army.  Or so she thinks.  When she spies an advertisement for the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots, Ida Mae knows this is her chance.   She has more to worry about than just passing the grueling training though – Ida Mae’s biggest worry is whether or not she will manage to pass for white in a segregated army that isn’t at all interested in recruiting colored women for anything, much less letting them fly Army planes.

Critical Evaluation:

Smith does not constrain herself to the typical tale of a plucky young idealist triumphing over sexism and bigotry, rather she weaves a complicated story about the realities of pervasive and institutional discrimination.  Flygirl is full of celebration, hope, danger, and loss – and it’s dealt with in a way that asks readers to not only root for Ida Mae, but to ponder her choices as well.  Ida Mae does more than attempt to shatter barriers in pursuit of her passion, she also has to decide whether achieving her dream is worth compromising her own values, distancing herself from her family, and lying to the friends she now depends on.  With it’s depth of plot and nuanced characters, Flygirl steadfastly refuses to fall into the trap of presenting racism as a Thing of the Past or Someone Else’s Problem.  While the specific barriers that Ida Mae faced no longer exist in that same form, her experiences speak clearly to modern audiences as well.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Ida spies an advertisement for the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots, she knows this is her chance to be what she has always wanted to be and she’s determined to take it – even if it means lying about who she is.

Author Information:



Booktalking Ideas:

I think most readers that would enjoy this book would be pulled in by the premise.  The historicalness of it may turn off some potential readers though, so I might bring in more of the actual plot so they have an idea of what it is really about.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

Being against this book would be like being against kids learning history.  That said, sad stuff happens and not everyone who is a “good guy” is very nice or really all that good all the time.  Pointing out how balanced the book is, as well as all the research that went into it, would be the best defense.

Reasons for Choosing this Title:

I first heard heard about this book when Smith was on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books [if I was writing this database by hand, I’d need that as a stamp] and I was hooked from the moment I heard the premise.