Getting the Wright facts on flight By Judy Belanger

Dec. 17 marks the 100th anniversary of Orville Wright's flight. He stayed in the air for 12 seconds and traveled 120 feet to record the first successful powered flight. Who would have thought that 100 years later people are flying everywhere, even to the moon? Many new books have been published about Wilbur and Orville Wright to mark this anniversary. These are the ones I especially enjoyed, including some that will supplement a science unit on flight.

THE FLYERS, by Allan Drummond, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16; ages 4-8.

Children flying their kites on the beach in Kitty Hawk, N.C., watch the Wright Brothers' first successful flight. Using their imaginations, the children imagine future flights they each will take, including to the moon, which causes all of them to laugh. The last page includes pictures of other first adventures in flight —including those in space.

TOUCHING THE SKY: THE FLYING ADVENTURES OF WILBUR AND ORVILLE WRIGHT, by Louise Borden and Trish Marx, illustrated by Peter Fiore, Simon & Schuster, $18.95; ages 5-8.

Six years after the first flight at Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers were traveling all over the world to talk to people and show off their flying machine. In September 1909, New York City officials held the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. Henry Hudson sailed to Manhattan on his ship, the Half Moon, and Robert Fulton on his steamboat. Part of the celebration included Wilbur Wright and his flying machine. He flew it several times; the last was up the Hudson River to Grant's Tomb and back for a total of 20 miles in 33 minutes and 33 seconds. He couldn't wait to tell Orville about his accomplishment. Orville and their sister Katharine were in Germany showing off the flying machine. Orville took Crown Prince Friedrich for a ride. On his last flight in Germany, Orville set a record by flying to an altitude of 1,600 feet. He couldn't wait to get home and share his experiences with Wilbur. The brothers were becoming very famous.

THE WRIGHT BROTHERS by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Henry Cole, Hyperion Books, $15.99; ages 5-9.

When Wilbur and Orville were boys, their father gave them a toy propelled by a rubber band. Watching the toy and birds fly sparked their interest in flight. Using the cumulative format of “The House That Jack Built,” Edwards puts together a simple story about the Wright Brothers' lives. On the bottom of the pages throughout the story, little mice help to explain the events. A time line at the end pages helps to explain the progression of flight.

ONE FINE DAY: A RADIO PLAY, by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, Wm. B. Eerdmans Books, $16; ages 9-12.

The Wright Brothers story is told like an old radio program. Van Steenwyk includes instructions for making the appropriate sounds—such as wind and motor sounds—to go along with the story, as well as a choices for background music. Farnsworth's sepia-toned pictures help depict that cold, windy day when the first flight took place. What fun it would be for an intermediate class to perform this play for younger grades on Dec. 17 to commemorate the 100-year celebration.

THE WRIGHT SISTER: KATHARINE WRIGHT AND HER FAMOUS BROTHERS, by Richard Maurer, Roaring Book Press, $18.95; ages 9-12.

There were four boys and one girl in the Wright family. Katharine was the youngest. Their mother died when Katharine was 14, so she spent the majority of her life taking care of her father and her brothers. Orville and Wilbur, the two older brothers, were married. Katharine went to Oberlin College in Ohio to become a teacher. When she graduated in 1898, it was hard for her to find a teaching job because the positions usually went to men. A year later, she was able to find work as a substitute teacher. It is interesting to read about Katharine's life, as well as to follow the progress the Wright brothers made with their flying. Included in the book are many pictures of the family members, their many friends and interesting people they met throughout their careers. Many of the pictures were taken by the Wright brothers, who also had an interest in photography.


Milton Wright, father of the Wright brothers, went to college to become a teacher and a minister. While at college he met his future wife, Susan Koerner, also studying to be a teacher. It was rare for women to go to college in the 1850s. Susan's father owned a shop that repaired carriages and wagons. Because Susan spent so much of her time in the shop, she learned how to use tools and make repairs, skills she passed on to her children. This eventually led to the Wright brothers making a printing press and making and repairing bicycles. They were always looking toward a new challenge. Since the bicycle business was limited during winters, the brothers started working on a glider upstairs from the bicycle shop, which eventually led to their first flight. When it was time to test the glider, the brothers crated all the parts and shipped them by train to North Carolina. This book provides information on the Wright brothers' younger years, interspersed with photos and information on others who contributed to the light. Included are instructions for 21 activities that will help children understand the history of flight, such as a hot air balloon made from a plastic grocery bag. Also helpful are a time line, glossary, index and Web sites with more information.




Judy Belanger is a retired elementary learning resource center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.



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