Soar, Elinor!

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Soar, Elinor! Book Poster Image
Exciting bio of '20s female pilot who found fame with stunt.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of information and vocabulary about flying and biplanes. Lots of historical context provided through the story and illustrations, with references to newsreels and images of old-style reporters, photographers, and aviators. A bit of geographical detail about New York and its bridges. 

Positive Messages

Follow your dream, work hard to achieve your goal, determination and training pay off, don't let anyone tell you you can't achieve something because you're a girl. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elinor is strong and determined. She knows what she wants and she goes after it, with the help of her understanding and supportive parents who get her the training she needs to pursue her goal. Her stunt is illegal, but she does it anyway, willing to accept the consequences and hoping for the best. She gets her flying lesson suspended temporarily, but a few months later, New York's mayor asks her to name a plane in the city's honor, which she does. 

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Soar, Elinor! is a picture-book biography of pioneering pilot Elinor Smith, who in 1928 flew under all four bridges that cross New York's East River -- at age 17. It's an exciting account of daredevil stunt, but it's also the story of one girl's determination to follow her passion, train hard for a goal, and prove wrong the naysayers who thought females didn't belong in the cockpit.

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What's the story?

After her first airplane ride in 1917, at age 6, Elinor Smith knew she wanted to be a pilot. At age 10 she started flying lessons, and got her license at age 16. She became famous in 1928 for being the first person to fly under all four bridges across New York's East River -- when she was just 17. She did it on a dare to prove that girls could be as good -- or better -- than men at flying planes.

Is it any good?

SOAR, ELINOR is an inspiring, exciting, beautifully illustrated picture book biography. Not only does it show a brave, talented girl defying gender bias, it also tells a rollicking good story of someone training hard for a goal and bravely attempting a record-breaking feat. The author's play by play as Elinor takes on each bridge in her daring journey is suspenseful and thrilling. Francois Roca's stunning paintings capture both the era and the determination of this amazing young woman.

An Author's Note gives more biographical infromation about Elinor's life after her bridges stunt, including the fact that in 2000, at age 89, she "flew" the NASA Space Shuttle Simulator. In a note about her sources, author Tami Lewis Brown, a licensed pilot, recalls long interviews with Elinor and her son Patrick Sullivan, during which "I held her goggles to my face and wore her flight helmet." As part of her research, Brown and her 10-year-old son flew -- and did loops and spins in -- an antique plane similar to Elinor's.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about women breaking barriers. Have you read other books about girls or women who broke into a male-dominated field?  

  • Has anyone ever told you you couldn't do something because you're a girl? How does that make you feel? Why do you think some people think girls are less capable?

  • Do you like reading about people who lived in a different time from your own? What kinds of details do you notice in the illustrations that show it was a different time from ours?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love strong girls and history

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