________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 16 . . . . April 4, 2008


The Book of Flight: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Rev. Ed.

Judith E. Rinard.
Richmond Hill, ON: Firefly, 2007.
128 pp., pbk., $16.95.
ISBN 978-1-55407-275-0.

Subject Headings:
National Air and Space Museum.
Aeronautics-United States-History.
Astronautics-United States-History.

Grades 5 and up / Ages 10 and up.

Review by Thomas F. Chambers.

** /4


Ballooning was popular in the 1800s. And with gliders, people could actually soar on wings like birds. Yet balloons and gliders were hard to control. They drifted with the wind. Inventors now began trying to achieve powered, controlled flight.

In 1852, Frenchman Henri Giffard attached a steam engine to a cigar-shaped hydrogen-filled balloon. He called it a "dirigible," meaning steerable. Yet the airship's steam engine was heavy and the craft proved slow and still hard to maneuver. Others tried adding power to heavier-than-air flying machines. Many were bizarre contraptions. A few hovered or hopped briefly off the ground, but never flew.

In 1896, an American scientist, Dr. Samuel Langley, launched an unpiloted steam-powered model aircraft. It flew nearly a mile. Yet when Langley tried launching a large piloted version, it crashed on takeoff--twice.

This seemed to prove what most people believed: powered, pilot-controlled flight was simply impossible.


The Book of Flight traces mankind's fascination with the concept of flying from ancient times up to the landing on Mars in 2004 of the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. The contents are from the collection of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The book is divided into 57 chapters of two pages each and is illustrated throughout with hundreds of mainly coloured, and often, beautiful photographs. Examples of chapter headings include Flying Boats, The Sound Barrier and Helicopters. Each chapter has a modest amount of text. The excerpt above, for example, represents the bulk of the text in the chapter, Powered Flight: First Attempts.

     Each photograph has a small paragraph explaining its relevance to the chapter. Thus, in Barnstorming, the note for a biplane, Plane for Sale, states "surplus military airplanes like this De Havilland DH-4 were good bargains after World War 1. Worth thousands of dollars during wartime, they might cost just a few hundred dollars after the war."

     One interesting feature is the Fun Fact. Each chapter has a least one which is used to highlight some aspect of the chapter's topic. In the chapter, One Small Step, for example, the Fun Fact is New Mineral with the following note: "The astronauts collected many rocks and found new Moon minerals. One was named 'armalcolite,' combining the names of the three Apollo 11 astronauts."

     Author, Judith E. Rinard was, for 20 years, a staff writer for National Geographic Magazine specializing in scientific topics. She has authored many books for children, including Zoos Without Cages and Amazing Monkeys.

     Since the information in the book is based on the Smithsonian collection, it is understandable that there is little Canadian content. This reduces the book's value to a Canadian audience. The Canadian contribution to the exploration of space, for example, has been considerable, but the only reference to Canada in this regard is in the chapter, Building the ISS, (International Space Station) where there is a picture of Canadarm2 and a brief note, "Bigger and smarter than the first robotic arm, Canadarm2 is nearly 58 feet long and has seven motorized joints." The word Canada is shown on the arm in another chapter, but the arm, itself, is called RMS (Remote Manipulator System). In these chapters, one might have also expected to see the names of Canadian astronauts, eight of whom have flown with NASA. Americans and Soviets are mentioned but no Canadian.

     Since the book is American, one looks in vain in other chapters where one might expect to see a Canadian reference. In the chapter on World War 1: Fighters, for example, Germany's Red Baron and American Eddie Rickenbacker are mentioned, but not Canadian ace Billy Bishop. Rickenbacker was credited with 26 kills, Bishop 72. Another chapter, Working Planes, mentions bush planes in reference to "a hunting trip to Canada" and has a photograph of the Noorduyn Norseman. Canada's de Havilland Beaver, however, the world's most successful bush plane, not made since 1967 but still used on Canada's northern lakes for hunting trips, is not mentioned.

     The Book of Flight could be used for recreation and also in the classroom. The lack of Canadian content, however, reduces its suitability for use in a Canadian classroom. This is indeed unfortunate for the subject is fascinating and the book well written, but Canadian children, wherever possible, should learn something of their country's history. For them to grow up and not recognize names like Billy Bishop, the Beaver and Roberta Bondar would be sad indeed.

Recommended with reservations.

Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.