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Wings and Rockets: The Story of Women in Air and Space
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003

In Wings and Rockets, author Jeannine Atkins tells the story of a select few female pilots and astronauts.

She does not tell the complete story of their lives, but rather the highlights, as is typical of an anthology such as this.

Atkins begins at the beginning, with Katherine Wright, the sister of Orville and Wilbur. Although Wright never went up in the air herself, it was her tireless work behind the scenes, for the family business, that allowed her brothers to spend their time inventing their airplane.

She follows this with the tale of Blanche Stuart, the first American woman to fly a plane, and Bessie Coleman -- the first African-American woman to become a pilot.

In telling the story of the first Powder Puff Derby, we learn of Amelia Earhart and her rivalry with Ruth Nichols and friendship with Jackie Cochran. She doesn’t dwell on Amelia’s disappearance.

Jackie Cochran’s story is as inspiring as any of the stories here, with her rise from extremely humble beginnings to her leadership of the WASP (Women’s Air Service Pilots). And finally, Atkins discusses the Mercury 13 - the 13 women who underwent tests during NASA’s race for the moon, and then Shannon Lucid and Eileen Collins.

Excellent except for a few minor quibbles
The book is very well written, for younger readers, and is recommended despite a few minor flaws.

First, the book doesn’t have any photos. There are quite a few illustrations which are pleasant enough, but illustrations belong in books of fiction, not non-fiction.

As Atkins herself points out, she’s chosen to focus only on American pilots, so the dozens of European women who flew from 1910 onward aren’t mentioned.

There are a couple of omissions. For example, Bessie Coleman was indeed thrown out of her plane…but she was not the pilot of it at the time, a fact which Atkins omits in her comments. Jackie Cochran was indeed the leader of the WASP, but she forced out Nancy Harkness Love to do it.

The WASP are always referred to, incorrectly, as the WASPs, which is redundant. Atkins makes that error a couple of times.

However, these are very minor quibbles, and overall this book is an excellent starting point to get young girls interested in aviation.

Here’s the table of contents for Wings and Rockets:

Dreams and Beginnings (1903-1926)
1. Katharine Wright (the Wright Brothers’ sister)
2. Blanche Stuart Takes Off
3. Brave Bessie Coleman

The First Woman’s Cross-Country Air Race (1929)
4. Amelia Earhart - the race begins
5. Disaster for Amelia Earhart
6. Amelia Earhart and Another Dream

Friendships and War (1932-1944)
7. Jackie Cochran Learns to Fly
8. Jackie Cochran and Amelia Earhart
9. Jackie Cochran and the WASP
10. After the War - Ann Baumgartner and Jackie Cochran

How High Can We Go - Women in Space (1960-1999)
11. Jerrie Cobb and the Mercury 13
12. Shannon Lucid and NASA
13. Eileen Collins and the Air Force
14. Shannon Lucid in Mir
15. Commander Eileen Collins

A note from the author
Important years in women’s aviation history
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