Explaining the physics of flight is a challenge. How to combine that with the story of the Wright Brothers, plus make it all entertaining for kids? Put it in comic book form! The latest installment of the Science Comics series by First Second is all about flying machines, focusing on how Wilbur and Orville Wright’s methodical airplane experiments made history.
Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus, is told in the delightful voice of Katherine Wright, the younger sister of the famous brothers. In an over-achieving family, she was part of the tradition. The only sibling to earn a college degree, Katherine taught high school Latin in an era where most women barely finished grammar school. She was an ongoing supportive voice for her brothers’ experiments with a flying machine, eventually becoming an integral part of bringing their invention to the world. Through her eyes we watch the frustrations and triumphs of Wilbur and Orville, and many other early inventors of aviation.
Molly Brooks is the illustrator for this volume, and I love the color tones. She uses sepia and blue-grays exclusively throughout to capture the tone of Victorian times. The characters are simple, but expressive, and events move across the pages with an even flow. The highlight pages are, of course, the ones of the flying machines, with sound effects rolling around the panels.
Although I know the basic story of the Wright brothers, reading this graphic novel filled in all the gaps of the evolution of our modern-day jets. Hot air balloons, dirigibles, and other slow-moving airships have their place in aviation history, but the story really begins in 1894 Germany with Otto and Gustoav Lilienthal’s glider, which was inspired by bird flight. The book ends in 1945 England with Frank Whittle, who invented the turbo jet. Along the way, readers are taken through decades of excitement, danger (plenty of accidents that led to injuries and death), failures, and finally triumph. The goal of air machine enthusiasts was not just to get something in the air, but something that could be controlled and stay up for a long period of time. The Wright Brothers’ historic 1903 flight was so important because they had an airplane with adjustable controls and a motor engine to stay in the sky.
The historical storyline is broken up by explanations of the science of aviation. Starting with Newton’s laws of motion, explaining “lift,” the brilliance of the Wright’s wind tunnel experiments, the “axis of control,” and plenty more. Each of these sections is done as a conversation between Katherine and an inventor. There is a glossary and further reading list in the back for kids who want to get more into the subject of flying. I recommend Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared for elementary age and up.
GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.