American Wings: Chicago's Pioneering Black Aviators and the Race for Equality in the Sky (Hardcover)

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American Wings: Chicago's Pioneering Black Aviators and the Race for Equality in the Sky By Sherri L. Smith, Elizabeth Wein Cover Image

American Wings: Chicago's Pioneering Black Aviators and the Race for Equality in the Sky (Hardcover)


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From the acclaimed author of Flygirl and the bestselling author of Code Name Verity comes the thrilling and inspiring true story of the desegregation of the skies.

“This beautiful and brilliant history of not only what it means to be Black and dream of flying but to, against every odd, do so, completely blew me away.” —Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award Winner for Brown Girl Dreaming

In the years between World War I and World War II, aviation fever was everywhere, including among Black Americans. But what hope did a Black person have of learning to fly in a country constricted by prejudice and Jim Crow laws, where Black aviators like Bessie Coleman had to move to France to earn their wings?

American Wings follows a group of determined Black Americans: Cornelius Coffey and Johnny Robinson, skilled auto mechanics; Janet Harmon Bragg, a nurse; and Willa Brown, a teacher and social worker. Together, they created a flying club and built their own airfield south of Chicago. As the U.S. hurtled toward World War II, they established a school to train new pilots, teaching both Black and white students together and proving, in a time when the U.S. military was still segregated, that successful integration was possible.

Featuring rare historical photographs, American Wings brings to light a hidden history of pioneering Black men and women who, with grit and resilience, battled powerful odds for an equal share of the sky.
Sherri L. Smith is not a pilot, but she makes an excellent passenger (unless it’s a very small plane). She is the author of numerous acclaimed fiction and nonfiction books for young people, including Flygirl, the winner of the California Book Awards’ Gold Medal; The Blossom and the Firefly, the winner of the Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators; Orleans; and Who Were the Tuskegee Airmen? She teaches creative writing at Hamline University. Born in Chicago, Sherri now lives in Los Angeles. Learn more at and follow her on Twitter @Sherri_L_Smith.

Elizabeth Wein is a recreational pilot and the owner of about a thousand maps. She is the author of several young adult novels, including Code Name Verity, an Edgar Award winner and a #1 New York Times bestseller; Black Dove, White Raven, winner of the Children’s Africana Book Award; and most recently, Stateless. Her book A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II was a finalist for YALSA’s Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award. A dual American-British citizen, Elizabeth lives in Scotland. Learn more at and follow her on Twitter @EWein2412.
Product Details ISBN: 9780593323984
ISBN-10: 059332398X
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 16th, 2024
Pages: 384
Language: English
Praise for American Wings:

* “A wonderfully detailed and evocative review of the true story of four Black Americans between the world wars who pioneered aviation in spite of many obstacles placed in their paths . . . A vivid and accurate recounting of the struggles and triumphs of the desegregation of ­Chicago aviation. The lengthy end notes, bibliography, and substantial authors’ note underscore the level of research completed. ­Fans of the authors’ previous books will appreciate this nonfiction title, as will fans of aviation ­history.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“Accessible and buoyant . . . A fascinating, well-told American story full of compelling innovation.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Essential and richly informative . . . Inspirational singular stories feature famous names and institutions such as the Tuskegee Airmen, b&w archival photographs imbue the historical narrative with contemporary-feeling familiarity, and nail-biting tales of flights gone wrong add verve, making for an exciting and richly rendered addition to the history of Black aviation.” —Publishers Weekly

“[A] thorough and absorbingly written history of the early days of aviation.” —The Horn Book

“An enlightening account of notable Black American aviators and the issues that they confronted during their careers.” —Booklist

“Thoroughly researched . . . This comprehensive look at an unsung piece of aviation history will be an excellent resource, capped with a wealth of back matter that includes sources, quotes, and an index.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“This beautiful and brilliant history of not only what it means to be Black and dream of flying but to, against every odd, do so, completely blew me away. Kudos to Smith and Wein for believing in the importance of history and passing it on.” —Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award Winner for Brown Girl Dreaming

“A barnstorming, barrel-rolling, loop-the-loop history of the Black American pilots who defied racism and gravity in equal measure. American Wings soars!” —Alan Gratz, New York Times bestselling author of Refugee
“A fascinating, well-researched history of the birth of Black aviation in the twentieth century. Smith and Wein have perfectly captured the challenging and thrilling journeys of these inspiring aviators from Chicago. I loved every page.” —Brandy Colbert, award-winning author of Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
“Smith and Wein pack this story with daring aerial adventures and pilots whose love of flying and refusal to be denied practically soar off the page!” —Steve Sheinkin, author of the Newbery Honor Book and National Book Award Finalist Bomb

“Hidden within a romp about daring-do aviators is the story of America: the barriers it created for some of its citizens, the people who worked to tear them down, and how the country was propelled toward equal rights for all.” –Monica Hesse, bestselling author of Girl in the Blue Coat

“Thanks to Smith and Wein’s eye-opening, page-turning, often disquieting, but always compelling narrative, we can now return these remarkable, long unsung African American aviation pioneers to our collective American memory where they’ve always belonged.” —Candace Fleming, author of The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh, winner of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction