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My sons both like airplanes and anything to do with flight, so we have been studying famous aviators. We have books on the Wright Brothers, Louis Bleriot, and several books that combine stories of famous aviators, but surprisingly, in all of our books, there is very little if any mention of Alcock and Brown. In fact, reading many of these books, one could easily believe Charles Lindbergh was the first aviator to cross the Atlantic. In fact. Alcock and Brown beat him to the punch by a full 8 years, and considering the pace of aircraft development at that time, 8 years was quite a long time.
The first flight across the channel was spurred on the offer of a £1,000 prize by the Daily Mail. This newspaper encouraged the first transatlantic flight as well with an offer of a £10,000 prize. This prize was claimed by two British pilots, Arthur Brown and John Alcock for their flight from Newfoundland to Ireland on June 14 -15, 1919. This book tells the remarkable story of their adventure.
The book gives us some brief background information on both men. Brown was born an American, but raised British and gave us his American citizenship to join the Royal Flying Corps in WW1. John Alcock was also a British pilot in the 1st World War, but he served in the Royal Naval Air Service. Both men were captured and served as prisoners of war, and Brown was left with a limp after being shot down. The men met at Brooklands, where they formed a team to join in the air race across the Atlantic in a converted Vicker's Vimy. There were two other teams taking part, both of which were able to start before the British team, but both of which failed to make the crossing.
The majority of the story takes place as the team fly across the Atlantic. Alcock served as the pilot and Brown as the navigator. Transatlantic flight is something we take forgranted today, but these men were in a tiny craft, open to the freezing air, flying through dense fog and heavy storms. Even knowing how it will end, it is difficult not to get caught up in the excitement as the adventure unfolds. There are several very tense moments, especially as Brown climbs out onto the wing to clear a frozen gauge in a heavy storm at 11.000 feet.
This book is illustrated with a combination of exceptionally high quality paintings and photographs. The photographs are either black and white or shades of brown, and are certainly not shot in high definition, but they are reasonably clear, and certainly add to the book. A few more modern colour photos show examples of equipment and supplies.
This book doesn't have the humour of "The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot ". It is also a great deal more detailed, and of a higher reading level. I mentioned that "The Glorious Flight" could be enjoyed by children with little or no interest in aviation, and it is often chosen as a bedtime story. The same could not be said of this book. This book is a historical account, and a brilliant story of adventure, but I can not see this appealing to any child who is not fascinated by airplanes. My sons ages 3 and 7 both enjoyed this, and with their interest in flight, it has had a few readings, but I don't expect it to become a favourite bedtime story.
I would very strongly recommend this book to other home educators, especially if they are doing any studies on aviation. As many of you may know, history is no longer really a school subject and we have been advised to just try to pick up bits and pieces according to my son's interests. As he does have an interest in aviation, we have really expanded on this, learning about famous people, places and geography, technology and invention, exploration and discovery, all under the subject of airplanes.
Although schools and libraries are doing away with many of the history books now, I think this book would really have a place in classroom or library. It really is a wonderful real life tale of adventure with real British heroes. As far as buying this for the average family bookshelf though, I think this is a lovely book for a child who loves aircraft - but I would not recommend it otherwise. It certainly is useful for teaching history, and I'm sure most children would enjoy reading this once, but only those with a real love of aviation are really going to read this enough to warrant a purchase.
This book is not currently in print. Used copies start at £6.80. I was fortunate enough to pick it up for only £2.81 when I ordered a cheaper book by the same author and the seller sent me this one instead. Having seen the quality of this book, I do feel the full price would still have been money well spent.
It is hard for me to put an age recommendation on this book. I generally would not recommend this for a 3 year old, but my 3 year old seems to like this even more than my 7 year old. The reading level is advanced - so I would say for ages 8+ if reading this on their own, but if a parent will be reading, I think a love of aviation has to be the deciding factor rather than age. Of course adults are not meant to like picture books - but I did really enjoy this myself, and I feel I learned a lot from this book as well. I doubt many adults would buy it for themselves, but is is an enjoyable way to brush up on history, and an exciting story.