Friday, May 13, 2016

You Can Fly

It's no secret, I'm a big fan of Carole Boston Weatherford

She beautiful melds nonfiction and poetry in book after book after book, in addition to many collections of "just" poetry. Previously, I featured an excerpt from her poem, "I am the Bridge," in honor of President Obama's first inauguration here, plus an interview with her about her award winning book, Birmingham, 1963, on the 50th anniversary of the bombing in Birmingham here, as well as many other posts that reference her appearances at the ALA Poetry Blast, TLA Poetry Round Up, and her many other awards and honors. Plus, you can find Carole's "Poet to Poet" interview with Jacqueline Woodson about her National Book Award-winning, Brown Girl Dreaming here.

Now, I am honored to participate in a blog tour featuring her new nonfiction book in verse, You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen (Simon & Schuster, 2016), which pairs her poems with the scratchboard illustrations created by her son, Jeffery Weatherford, their first collaboration as mother and son. It celebrates "the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, pioneering African American pilots who triumphed in the skies and past the color barrier." Carole and Jeffery were kind enough to agree to an interview-- asking each other questions about their collaboration.

JEFFERY: Why did you want to write this book?
CAROLE: My parents came of age in the 1940s, so I am nostalgic about that era. My father fought in WWII. The Tuskegee Airmen’s saga resonated with me. It is stirring—historically, politically and emotionally. As a children’s literature professor, I knew of an historical fiction picture book and of several informational books about the Tuskegee Airmen. I thought the narrative would work as a sequence of poems. 

CAROLE: What was your inspiration for the illustrations?
JEFFERY: My inspiration was documentary photographs from the Library of Congress. While researching picture references, I had some dreams of meeting Tuskegee Airmen. I also watched the movie Red Tails.

JEFFERY: The text is in second person. Whose voice is the narrator’s?
CAROLE: I’m not sure. I may have channeled First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt or abolitionist Frederick Douglass. After completing and titling You Can Fly, I was doing picture research and found an account of Mrs. Roosevelt’s flight with Tuskegee instructor Chief Anderson. Afterwards, the First Lady said, “You can fly.” Much later, I read Frederick Douglass’s Civil War editorial calling for African Americans to join the U.S. Colored Troops to end slavery. He urged black men to “fly to arms.” You can’t make this stuff up.

CAROLE: What is your favorite poem from the book?
JEFFERY: The first poem, “Head to the Clouds,” is my favorite. Another favorite is "The Fight Song." It is the actual fight song of the 99th Fighter Squadron.

JEFFERY: What is your favorite illustration from the book?
CAROLE: I can’t choose just one. I have three favorites: the portrait of an Airman, the picture of three planes and the picture of the boy who is lying in the grass and gazing at the sky. The Airman looks heroic, the picture of the boy resembles an etching, and the planes are straight out of a comic book.

CAROLE: How did you come to illustrate children's books?
JEFFERY: For my senior project in high school, I illustrated one of my mother’s manuscripts entitled Which Way to Dreamland? It’s based on a question that I once asked: How do dreams get in your head? After college graduation, my mom asked me to create some art samples for her manuscript You Can Fly.

JEFFERY: Share something about your experiences with planes or flying.
CAROLE: I loved planes as a girl. On Sundays, my family went to Baltimore’s Friendship Airport to watch planes take off and land. That was long before I ever boarded a plane.

More Resources
WWII by the numbers: Of nearly 1,000 Tuskegee pilots, half went overseas and fewer than 10 were captured or killed.

From the archives:
Tuskegee Airman Edward Gleed at air base in Italy.

Check out the comprehensive review at "The Children's War: A Guide to Books for Young Readers About World War II" available here.

Now watch the book trailer here:

Do not miss this powerful book of 33 poems and lots of heart and history, already getting starred reviews from Publishers Weekly ("wields the power of poetry to tell a gripping historical story") and Kirkus ("A masterful, inspiring evocation of an era"). 

Now head on over to Violet Nesdoly's place for more Poetry Friday news. 


Linda B said...

I was born during WWII & my father was a pilot, lost in a battle in the Philippines so I have read many kinds of stories through the years of the pilot's experiences, including the Tuskegee airmen. Love the idea of this book, and the scratchboard illustrations that you shared. Looks like a wonderful book about these brave men. Thank you!

Violet N. said...

Another fascinating history / poetry combination! Thanks for highlighting this book, Sylvia. I love it when poetry and history come together in this way.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Hi, Linda and Violet, and thanks for stopping by. And thank you for sharing your story, Linda, and your dad's brave sacrifice. Carole's book really captures the heroism of these WWII pilots too-- never sentimental, always very personal and powerful!

Brenda at FriendlyFairyTales said...

Some of my family was lost in WWII, and we need to always remember not to head there ever again. All it takes is one vastly crazy man and one angry nation. I love LOVE the illustrations. What a talented young man. I will have to read this one.

Mary Lee said...

How wonderful to witness what (hopefully) will be the first of many mother/son collaborations. This looks fabulous -- I'll watch for it!

Doraine said...

I have enjoyed Carole's work, too. I live about 45 minutes from Tuskegee and have always loved their story. So glad to see this collaboration.

Charles Waters said...

Ordered the book from the library. Can't wait to read it. WEATHERFORD POWER!