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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Like Elizabeth Wein's other books, Black Dove White Raven is a vivid, nuanced view of often little-known history, as seen by young characters caught up in it, and backed by her passion for aviation, cultural exploration, and Ethiopia. The story is packed with detail on subjects ranging from vintage airplanes to circus riding to the Underground Railroad to Haile Selassie's efforts to bring his kingdom into modern times while keeping it safe from predatory world powers. An extensive appendix offers more historical detail and suggestions for further reading.
An oft-quoted Ethiopian proverb notes that "spiderwebs joined together can catch a lion" -- and many of the plot developments hinge on the ways in which invisible networks and hidden connections can prevail over powerful forces. Strong messages of family, friendship, courage, and determination to do the right thing under often impossible circumstances -- which often involves thinking and acting outside numerous boxes. Also kindness, empathy, and respect for other people's beliefs and traditions, particularly when you're a guest in their land, and using your skills and talents to help others who need them.
Positive Role Models
Em and Teo, born months apart and raised as siblings, are smart and thoughtful, often responsible beyond their years, and profoundly connected as they face challenges from racists at the ballpark to school bullies in Pennsylvania to unimagined dangers in Ethiopia. Delia, whose tragic death sets the story's events in motion, is a proud Black woman, a skilled pilot, and a devoted mom who's determined to give her son Teo a life where he won't face racial discrimination. She's also pragmatic enough to convince Rhoda that yes, they have to perform for all-White audiences in the South if they ever hope to make enough money to get to Ethiopia. Rhoda, who comes from Pennsylvania Quakers and whose ancestors were active in the Underground Railroad in slavery days, is devastated by Delia's death but determined to fulfill her dream of raising the kids in Ethiopia, only to be blindsided and derailed by international intrigue and harsh reality amid the beauty. Rhoda's parents in Pennsylvania are pacifist Quakers who didn't even approve of her going to be a nurse in World War I because that was supporting war, and their quiet, loving strength stands in support of family and opposition to violence throughout.
Black Dove White Raven takes a deep dive into the culture of a proud, independent African nation struggling to maintain its identity and culture as it emerges into the modern world as an attractive target for predatory nations. The story moves from the heady days of freedom in post-World War I Paris, where it seemed nobody cared what color you were, to the United States, where a female, biracial aviation team faced discrimination for race and gender, to Ethiopia, never colonized to this point, which many Black people in the U.S. saw as a beacon of hope -- and where, they discovered, slavery still existed. There's also some exploration of religion, as the kids experience the deeply held Quaker beliefs of their grandparents and the spiritual practices and cultural preservation of hermit monks in Ethiopia. Like all Elizabeth Wein's stories, this one is complex, nuanced, and not given to easy answers as characters find their hopes and dreams overwhelmed by events and forces beyond their control -- and struggle to do the right thing anyway.
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Violence & Scariness
Delia's death in an aviation accident when the kids are little sets the story's events in motion, and protagonists are constantly caught up in potentially deadly forces beyond their control. Set on the eve of World War II in Ethiopia, the story finds characters on the receiving end of brandished weapons, bombs, and mustard gas that burns, blinds, and sometimes kills them. Ethiopians with spears and ancient rifles are no match for bombers and tanks. There's cultural violence aplenty as a character who's fled racial discrimination in the U.S. discovers he's a slave by birth under Ethiopian law and can't do anything about it. Two adult characters get in a fistfight -- which Em breaks up by firing a gun into the air. When war breaks out, Ethiopian men and boys are ordered to report for military service under penalty of death.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Rhoda is charming and flirtatious with her rarely seen Italian husband and his friends, mainly to protect the life she's built with the kids. It's mentioned that Delia and Rhoda sleep in the same bed in their barnstorming days, and also that little Teo and Em sleep in the bed with them. There's a profound bond between the two women that is less romantic than what Rhoda's mother describes as "soulmates": "Any two people who understand each other so well that one of them can fly blindfolded and the other will stand unafraid on the wing of the plane." In Ethiopia, Em notices that not even married couples kiss, hold hands, or show affection in public.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Em mentions that despite the efforts of French aviators to get her mom drunk, Rhoda never drinks before flying, especially since Prohibition was in full force when she was flying in the U.S.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Black Dove White Raven, like author Elizabeth Wein's other work (Code Name Verity, The Enigma Game), is an emotional, nuanced historical adventure involving irresistible, complex characters caught up in events far beyond their control, and trying their best to do the right thing. The title refers to the biracial team of aviators, Delia Dupré and Rhoda Drummond, who are a big hit on the 1920s barnstorming circuit until a fatal accident claims Delia and throws Rhoda into depression. It's also the identity assumed by Delia's son Teo and Rhoda's daughter Emilia, raised together as siblings, coming to terms with a world that will never treat them as such because of their different skin colors, and building a rich imaginary life as superheroes. To escape racial prejudice, Rhoda takes the kids to Ethiopia -- at the time, the only country in Africa never to be colonized -- and is soon caught up in international intrigue and brewing war as newly crowned emperor Haile Selassie struggles to meet the threat of predatory world powers. Guns, bombs, chemical warfare, and other violence befalls characters, not all of whom survive unfolding events as they're ensnared in historical forces far beyond their control -- including slavery, traces of which lingered in Ethiopia at the time of the story. The two teens' deep, lifelong bond makes for a riveting tale of clashing values, clashing nations, courage, determination -- and lots of flying. A substantial appendix offers plentiful detail about Ethiopian history and culture, Black aviators of the early 20th century, and the real people who appear as characters in the story.
Is It Any Good?
Elizabeth Wein's emotional tale of two American teen pilots in 1936 Ethiopia finds them savoring the freedom of the skies and navigating political minefields as invaders eye their adopted country. Trying to do the right thing in often impossible circumstances, Teo and Em, aka Black Dove White Raven, do their best -- but neither they nor any of the other complex, intriguing characters can withstand overwhelming forces as war brews. Not even the emperor, as Em, whose ancestors helped escaping enslaved workers on the Underground Railroad, discovers that slavery is still very real in Ethiopia:
"Haile Selassie is trying to get rid of slavery gradually because he needs rich generals like Ras Amde Worku to give him loyalty without reservations. When people don't like his reforms, they rebel against him. The emperor can't risk offending his aristocracy with new laws they resent, and a sudden ban on slavery will leave a couple of million people with no work and no place to live. He can't do that when the whole country is about to be invaded."
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