Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Book Whisperer Enjoys a Memoir


Nine years ago, one of my book clubs chose a series of memoirs. One of those books was Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. In Tender at the Bone, Reichl describes her early life and learning to cook as a defense mechanism because her own mother was a terrible cook. Eventually, readers learn her mother was bipolar which accounts for her mood swings and her inability to stick to one thing for very long.

In her most recent memoir, Save me the Plums, Reichl describes being offered the job as editor of Gourmet magazine. She describes being courted to take the job despite her reluctance and even belligerent answers of “NO!”

Eventually, Reichl does take the job as editor of Gourmet; Save me the Plums details her beginning at the magazine through to its closing. She had to learn how to be the boss, how to make decisions that affected others, and how to turn Gourmet into a magazine a wide variety of people wanted to read. When Reichl’s young son learned that if his mother took the job at Gourmet, she would be home each evening, he encouraged her to take the job. He missed seeing his mother in the evenings because as a food critic, she was out most evenings.

In Save me the Plums, Reichl gives readers additional glimpses into her early life with her parents.  She describes a winter day when she returned home from school to discover her mother had purchased a “large dead birch tree” which workmen were hoisting up to their eleventh-floor apartment.  She made other extravagant purchases the family could not afford: a house in the country, a boat, a fur coat, and a large painting. When the items had to be returned, Reichl’s mother was heartbroken. She would often take to her bed and stay there for months.

Reichl’s father was the anchor who held the family steady. He loved his wife and stood by her with whatever scheme she devised. Sadly, he could not give her all the money she wanted for fine things.

Reichl moves into her job as Gourmet’s editor by describing the people she works with and the terror she feels at taking over such a massive job. She has an office which she is allowed to decorate with the bright colors she loves. She has a budget she could only have dreamed about and a car, clothing allowance, and travel money.

Save me the Plums is a vivid account of Reichl’s ten years with Gourmet. In the end, as the magazine lost revenue, Reichl knew there would be changes. She writes, “I’d fortified myself against the pain of being fired, but this was worse: They had murdered the magazine.”

Readers can feel Reichl’s pain over the loss especially as they look back over the beginning of Save me the Plums where Reichl recounts her first encounter with Gourmet. That story, in itself, is enough to get readers interested in the rest of Reichl’s memoir. A few recipes sprinkled throughout the book also add to the story.

Ruth Reichl is host of PBS’s Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth. At her Web site,, discover more about Reichl, her books, and her other work.

From Reichl’s Web site: ” This is one of America’s best-loved fall desserts. And for good reason. Originally published in the New York Times by Marion Burros, it has been tweaked by any number of people. Including me.”

The Book Whisperer Discovers a True Story About Slavery


Never Caught is a captivating story of Ona Judge, a slave owned by Martha Custis Washington and brought to her marriage with George Washington. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the author, is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University. Professor Dunbar has received fellowships from Ford, Mellon, and SSRC. Her first book is A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City.

Watch a YouTube video book talk with Professor Dunbar on Never Caught: She maintains a Web site at this link: There, readers will find information about Professor Dunbar’s work as a writer, historian, and lecturer.

Dunbar provides a biography of Ona Judge, a dower slave, owned by Martha Parke Custis, brought to her marriage with George Washington. Dower slaves were held in trust for Martha’s children or grandchildren. Technically, they did not belong to Washington, but he owned slaves in his own right.

When George Washington became President of the newly formed United States, he had to move his family first to New York City and then Philadelphia from their beloved home at Mount Vernon. The Washingtons chose a small number of slaves to take with them as servants in both NY and PA. Ona Judge was one of those who moved with the family. Betty, Ona’s mother, was a favored slave in Martha’s household.

Ona became very much like a lady’s maid, dressing Martha and combing her hair. Ona also had to repair any damage to Martha’s clothes, so she became an expert seamstress. Martha depended upon Ona a great deal. Ona would even make social calls with Martha, staying in the background both at home and on visits to other homes in case Martha needed Ona.

Dunbar describes Ona’s duties well and also reminds readers of the perils young female slaves faced. Apparently, the Washingtons treated Ona well, giving her new clothes and treating her kindly, but she was still enslaved and at their beck and call.

Once the family moved to Philadelphia, the Washingtons had to take the slaves back to Mount Vernon or to the neighboring state of New Jersey every six months or the slaves could be declared free. The Washingtons wanted to keep this knowledge from the slaves, but, no doubt, the information did leak out.

When Martha’s granddaughter Elizabeth Parke Custis, also called Betsey and Eliza, married Thomas Law, a man twenty years her senior, Martha bequeathed Ona Judge to the granddaughter. Elizabeth was known to have a stormy temper and to be unpredictable. Ona definitely did not wish to become her property even though it meant returning to her family in the South.

At that point, Ona made up her mind to run away. Runaway slaves had a difficult time and were often caught. Rewards from $5 to $10, a lot of money in those days, were offered for the capture and return of the slaves.

Ona found passage on a ship with Captain John Bowles who took her to Portsmouth, NH. The passage was difficult and Ona was seasick on the ship. Once she got to Portsmouth, she had to find a job and lodging. She managed both of those tasks, taking a job as a domestic.

Below is the first newspaper ad posted seeking Ona Judge’s return:

In living with the Washingtons, Ona had had an easy life in terms of work, but she was on constant call. As an escapee, she had to do very hard work as a laundress and housekeeper. In those days, the jobs were not only difficult, but also dangerous.

One day in Portsmouth, Ona is on her way to work when she comes face-to-face with Senator Langdon’s daughter. Ona does not acknowledge the young woman, but she recognizes Ona and tells her father that she has seen Ona. At that point, readers imagine that Ona will be taken back to the Washingtons or that she will flee to another city.

In effort to find Ona Judge, Washington wrote a letter to Oliver Wolcott: “I am sorry to give you, or any one else trouble on such a trifling occasion. The ingratitude of the girl, who was brought up & treated more like a child than a Servant ought not to escape with impunity if it can be avoided.” Clearly, he missed the points that Ona was not a child and was not free.

Ona remains in Portsmouth and she remains free of capture, but she does experience some terrifying moments. Washington’s nephew Burwell Bassett is sent to retrieve Ona, but he fails. Others also try to return Ona to the Washingtons, but without success.

In Portsmouth, Ona met Jack Staines and they were legally married in 1797. Staines was a free black man, seaman who was often gone at sea. Unable to marry in Portsmouth, Ona and Jack went to the nearby town of Greenland where they were married. Ona later found refuge in Greenland with a free black family when Jack Staines died.

Dunbar gives readers background on the times, the ways people began looking at slavery and groups which formed to abolish slavery. In NY, for example, the New-York Manumission Society was founded in 1785 by John Jay and others “to promote the gradual abolition of slavery and manumission of slaves of African descent within the state of New York.”

In Pennsylvania, the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully held in Bondage was the first American Abolition society, founded April 14, 1775. Later, it was reorganized and became the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage with the short name of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Benjamin Franklin became the president of the organization and took the matter of slavery to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia killed almost 5000 people between Aug 1 and Nov 9. No one knew that mosquitoes transmitted the fever until that fact was verified in the nineteenth century. The yellow fever epidemic ended with the frost that killed the mosquitoes. Doctors thought African-Americans were immune to yellow fever, so many were recruited to care for the sick and bury the dead. Of course, they were not immune and many became ill and died.

Washington did struggle with the morality of slavery, but he did not free his slaves during his lifetime. Washington’s will “stipulated that aged slaves, those who were unable to work or support themselves, receive assistance and that they be ‘comfortably clothed and fed’ by the Washington heirs after their liberation took effect.” He also decreed that the slaves be taught to read and write and taught a useful occupation in preparation for their freedom.

Dunbar provides readers with a well-rounded look at slavery through the life of one slave: Ona Judge.

The Book Whisperer Examines a Book for Book Lovers


My friend Judy sent me a copy of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes. Publisher’s Weekly in a starred review calls A Gentle Maddness “an absolutely fascinating tale and an engrossing, essential book that no book lover should be without.” In 1995, A Gentle Madness was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. Basbanes has received numerous awards for his writing of nonfiction books and articles for a variety of newspapers and magazines such as The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and The Smithsonian.

A Gentle Madness pays homage to book lovers, book collectors, and book history. Obviously, Basbanes tackled a monumental job in chronicling the history of books and their collectors. The book is 638 pages long with 39 pages of notes, an extensive bibliography consisting of another 37 pages, and finally an index of 25 pages.  A Gentle Madness is a scholarly work.

Basbanes has also included a number of illustrations to accompany his work. Sir Robert Cotton, 1571-1631, is noted as an “antiquary and collector.” Another picture of interest is of the statue of John Harvard, 1607-1638, “the Puritan clergyman whose gift of books established the first library to be formed in British North America.”

The chapter titles are intriguing. “Balm for the Soul,” “Rule Britannia,” “Brandy for Heroes,” and “Infinite Riches” will keep readers moving from one page to the next.

In Chapter 13, “The Blumberg Collection,” the first line spoken by FBI Special Agent W. Dennis Aiken will intrigue book lovers: “I really don’t know why you want to come out here. All you’re going to see is seven rooms stacked to the ceiling with old books.”

Clearly, I did not read all of A Gentle Madness. It is the kind of book one keeps on hand to dip into again and again and then to pass it along to another book lover as Judy has done.

Nicholas Basbanes maintains an extensive Web site:

The Book Whisperer Promotes Radical Kindness


I often read about books, so I discovered Radical Kindness: The Life-Changing Power of Giving and Receiving by Angela C. Santomero when I was reading about newly published books. When I checked my library, I found Radical Kindness was available, so I requested it.

When I got home from the library with the book, I sat down to read immediately. In Deepak Chopra’s foreword, I discovered several gems before even getting into Santomero’s ideas. Chopra wrote, “We mistreat the other so that the sad truth about ourselves can be deflected. That’s the vicious circle that Radical Kindness breaks, beginning with each individual who is willing to wake up to the higher reality.”  Then in the last paragraph of the foreword, Chopra includes this statement: “Radical Kindness is an important antidote to the poisonous times we are living in, and we can’t look to others to remedy things for us.”

Angela Santomero is well-known for her work in children’s TV shows. She is co-creator of Blue’s Clues and creator of Super Why!, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Creative Galazy, and Wishenproof. Discover more about Santomero at her Web site:

Santomero credits Mister Rogers for starting her on this road of kindness. She explains that watching Mister Rogers made her feel as if she connected with someone. She further explains that she uses the word radical in her book’s title in its “original meaning. The term radical comes from the Latin word for root. And indeed, Fred Rogers placed kindness at the root of all he said and did on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Chapter titles give readers a clear idea of what to expect in Radical Kindness. In Chapter I, Santomero defines radical kindness and includes measures toward “Heart-Seeing: The First Step Toward Radical Kindness.” In Chapter II, she addresses “Be Kind to Yourself.” That concept is too often overlooked; still, being kind to others should start with oneself. Obviously, she includes a chapter on being kind to others and then expands that notion in the last chapter: “Radical Kindness for a Better World.”

The last part of the book provides “Thirty-two Acts of Radical Kindness You Could Do Today.” In those last 28 pages, Santomero provides specific acts one can easily perform to promote radical kindness. Some are as simple as phoning a friend or making one’s favorite meal. Others are fun such as going barefoot in the grass. One that is especially meaningful to me is #9: “Say No.” I have difficulty with that concept, so Santomero’s advice is particularly useful to me.

Santomero has not created an earth-shattering new concept in Radical Kindness, but she certainly does remind us that we can easily perform radical acts of kindness to create a better life for ourselves and a better world beyond ourselves.

The Book Whisperer Revisits a WWII Story

Antonina and Jan Zabinski

I read The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman several years ago. At the time, I was not writing often about the books I was reading because I was still teaching full-time. A recent book club chose to read The Zookeeper’s Wife, and I am glad to revisit the gripping, true story. Ackerman has published over 24 nonfiction books, poetry, and books for children. She has also received a number of awards. An interesting fact about Ackerman is that she “has the rare distinction of having a molecule named after her, dianeackerone, a pheromone in crocodilians.” In addition to her writing, she has been the host for the PBS series based on A Natural History of the Senses. On her Web site, readers can learn more about Ackerman and her work:

On the Web site, Ackerman posted this message: “I find that writing each book becomes a mystery trip, one filled with mental (and sometimes physical) adventures. The world revealing itself, human nature revealing itself, is seductive and startling, and that’s always been fascinating enough to send words down my spine. Please join me on my travels. I’d enjoy the company.” Her invitation is one that is hard to resist.

Much has been written about The Zookeeper’s Wife and more people became aware of the story when the book was made into a movie starring Jessica Chastain in 2017. Ackerman has captured the many moments of terror and of tenderness as Jan and Antonina Zabinski lived in their bombed out zoo in Warsaw, saving the lives of many Jewish people destined to be killed by the Nazis who occupied Poland.

Ackerman does not shy away from describing the horrid cruelty of the Nazi soldiers who shot Jewish people, particularly children, for sport. Living in the Ghetto meant the people there were fair fame for the particular brutality the Nazis inflicted. Once a person or group of people have been declared less than human or “non-human,” then the killers feel no remorse in killing regardless of the person’s age.

Many times, as I read the story of Jan and Antonina, I held my breath because the tension would mount as the possibility of being exposed would draw near. Imagine knowing that saving people’s lives puts your own family, including your young son, in extreme danger. Yet, Jan and Antonina and their son Rhys all worked to save as many lives as they could.

The Zabinskis also had their animals’ welfare to consider. They lost many animals in the initial Nazi invasion. Some were killed out right while others were taken away to other zoos in Germany. Ackerman captures the Zabinskis’ love for their animals well. Antonina, particularly, acts as a mother to animals rejected by their mothers or babies whose mothers died.      

Even before the war, the Zabinski household was filled with animals of all sorts. Rhys, Jan and Antonina’s son’s name is the same as that for the lynx in Polish.

Ackerman describes the harsh winters, the scarcity of food, and the constant dangers well. I found this quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi, to be particularly meaningful: “There was one thing we did not have to look for and that was exaltation. Every moment is great, we were taught, every moment is unique.” Knowing that death or imprisonment awaits around every corner would certainly make people treasure all the moments.

Ackerman’s writing borders on the poetic at times. For example, she describes the tumultuous household and Antonina’s control of it this way: “Then Antonina would laugh, brighten, and slowly wind the machinery of the crazy household as if it were an antique clock.” As we know, Ackerman is also a poet, so that use of language should be no surprise. Ackerman also writes that “since paradise only exists as a comparison, Guests in flight from the Ghetto found villa life a small den, complete with garden, animals, and motherly bread-maker (the etymological origin of the word paradise).”

For those who have not read The Zookeeper’s Wife, the story will be riveting and give them insight into the horrors of the German occupation of Poland.

The Book Whisperer Praises a Treasure



Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids is illustrated by Christine Davenier and edited by Susan Snively, Ph.D. While the title suggests the book is for kids, I would argue that it is for anyone! Davenier’s beautiful illustrations enhance Dickinson’s spare poems. Certainly, Dickinson’s poem stand on their own, requiring no illustrations, but Davenier has provided a world of color and animals to accompany the poems.


Purchase Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids for yourself and another one to give to a child. It is a charming book that you can read over and over, always finding new pleasure in the poems themselves and the illustrations.


Snively has also included definitions for words children might not recognize. They are discreetly placed at the bottom of the page so they do not interfere with the words or the illustrations.

Susan Snively is a Dickinson scholar and has chosen the poems well. The poems she chose are ones children will remember as they continue to read Dickinson. Snively maintains a Web site at


See more of Christine Davenier’s work on her site:

The Book Whisperer Examines a Book on Writing


I was totally unfamiliar with Alice Mattison until I read about The Kite and the String: How to Write With Spontaneity and Control—And Live to Tell the Tale.” The title alone should intrigue writers and would-be writers as well as readers who enjoy learning about the process of writing those beloved stories.

I opened The Kite and the String to the “Introduction: Excuse Me, Don’t We Know Each Other?” That title added to my interest. The first two paragraphs are engaging:

“Maybe you’re that woman in the corner of the coffee shop. You’re gazing over the lid of a laptop, then typing fast, then gazing again. Or possibly you’re that man with the narrow-ruled notebook, writing fat paragraphs in black ink…. And I? I’m the woman with messy gray hair who’s at risk of spilling her coffee down your neck, because she can’t help glancing over your shoulder to get a glimpse of what you’re writing. Is it, perhaps, a story? Is it a novel? A memoir?”

Mattison goes on to explain that The Kite and the String is not a how-to manual. Instead, she says it “describes one woman’s way of thinking about writing.”

Mattison has divided The Kite and the String into five parts. Within those five parts, she has included a variety of chapters. She includes chapters titled “Imagine,” “Let Happenings Happen,” “Become Someone Else,” and “Revising Our Thought Bubbles.”

My favorite chapter is “What Killed the Queen? and Other Uncertainties That Keep a Reader Reading.” Mattison reminds her readers, “we don’t write well without touching on painful subjects, and many of us need to write for a long time before those painful thoughts emerge from wherever we ordinarily hide them.”

Throughout The Kite and the String, Mattison uses examples from other novelists to illustrate the points she is making. This technique allows her readers then to research further for themselves by referring to those books and authors.

In “Revising Our Thought Bubbles,” Mattison gives advice about showing one’s writing. She explains that a writing workshop she attended for thirteen years with poets Jane Kenyon and Joyce Peseroff “made me dare to be a writer.” She goes on to say that “it’s possible to show your writing, cautiously, to people who aren’t writers and to learn from them.”  She emphasizes the word cautiously if showing the writing to non-writers. The writing workshops provide a much-needed service then because they consist of other writers.

Mattison is forthright in her teaching. She says, “Cherish the readers who offer more praise than you deserve, but find others as well—which may be more difficult.”

In the end, Mattison tells writers “be ambitious, in the best sense. Write—write first drafts—when you’re sleepy and stupid, receptive and vulnerable…. Take outrageous risks, and then have the patience and humility to fix your work.”


Mattison has published six novels, four collections of short stories, and a collection of poems. She has received a number of awards. She currently teaches in the MFA program at Bennington College. Learn more about Mattison and her work at her site:

The Book Whisperer Previews One Book, One Tulsa 2019


Nicole Chung’s memoir All You Can Ever Know has been chosen for One Book, One Tulsa. Chung will appear at Tulsa’s Central Library 27 September 2019, delivering a keynote speech and signing books.

Nicole Chung was adopted by a white, Catholic family in a closed adoption when she was an infant. She was born prematurely and her adoptive parents told her “your birth parents were very sad they couldn’t keep you, but they thought adoption was the best thing for you.”

Chung’s adoptive parents loved her and gave her an excellent home. Her parents continued to tell her the story that her birth family had loved her but were unable to care for her and that “my parents, in turn, were meant to adopt me.”

One of Chung’s young elementary classmates makes fun of her, pulling the skin around his eyes up and taunting her with racial slurs. She is stunned by his actions. Then she realizes she is often the only Asian person in a group in her school, her church, her town.

As an adult, married and expecting her first child, Chung begins to dig into her birth family. She discovers she has a half-sister, Jessica, and a full sister, Cindy. Her parents are divorced and living in different cities. Her father has remarried and his wife has treated both Jessica and Cindy with love and kindness.

Nicole and Cindy begin by exchanging letters and emails. Cindy tells Nicole their mother is abusive and Cindy had a very unhappy childhood except for the time when she lived with her father and step-mother. The two sisters do meet and Nicole talks with her mother on the phone. Eventually, Nicole meets her father and his wife.

Over the course of the letters, emails, and meetings, Nicole learns about her birth family.

My family has recently discovered a cousin who was given up for adoption. In our case, the white child was adopted by a white family, so the cultural differences were never an issue. Still, only the birth mother and her parents knew about the baby and the adoption. Now, we are getting to know one another and sharing family stories with our newly-found cousin. A cousins’ reunion will take place soon.

Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere, describes her reaction to All You Can Ever Know: “This book moved me to my very core. . . . [All You Can Ever Know] should be required reading for anyone who has ever had, wanted, or found a family—which is to say, everyone.”

Nicole Chung,,  has written articles for The New York Times, The Guardian, Slate, and Real Simple. Currently, she is editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine,


The Book Whisperer Looks at Lost Restaurants of Tulsa


Photographer and writer Rhys Martin published Lost Restaurants of Tulsa. The book provides stories and photographs of restaurants “from the Great Depression to the days of ‘Liquor by the Wink’ and the Oil Bust of the 1980s.”

After traveling through Southeast Asia and Europe, Martin returned to Tulsa, taking a new look at Oklahoma. With a renewed interest in his home state, Martin examined Route 66 and Tulsa. Learn more about his photography at his site: There, visitors can purchase photographs from Martin’s travels, including a large number of photographs of Tulsa locations.

Martin also maintains a Facebook page on the Lost Restaurants of Tulsa:

While Martin covers many of the lost restaurants of Tulsa, he could not capture all in one book. He laments that there are many more he could not include in Lost Restaurants of Tulsa: Borden’s Cafeteria, Sleepy Hollow, Martin’s BBQ, and Cardo’s Cadillac.

Martin gives his readers history to go along with the stories of those restaurants now lost in time. He explains “the booming community [Tulsa] was not immune to the Great Depression; however, the area wasn’t as hard-hit as the rest of the Midwest.”

The tremendous wealth brought by the oil industry brought many people to Tulsa. With the growing population and the number of people from a wide variety of places, the options in food grew. In addition, it became easier to ship more varieties of fruits and vegetables into the area.

Lost Restaurants of Tulsa is full of vintage photographs of the restaurants which range from mom and pop cafes to fine dining establishments. As one who arrived in Oklahoma as an adult, I don’t look upon these lost restaurants with the same fondness as someone who grew up in OK and watched the places disappear. Lost Restaurants of Tulsa does interest me in terms of what has been in Tulsa.

Readers will enjoy the history and photographs in Lost Restaurants of Tulsa.




The Book Whisperer Reviews Fly Girls


Keith O’Brien has received high praise for Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied all Odds and Made Aviation History. O’Brien conducted meticulous research into the five women: “Florence Klingensmith, a high‑school dropout who worked for a dry cleaner in Fargo, North Dakota; Ruth Elder, an Alabama divorcee; Amelia Earhart, the most famous, but not necessarily the most skilled; Ruth Nichols, who chafed at the constraints of her blue‑blood family’s expectations; and Louise Thaden, the mother of two young kids who got her start selling coal in Wichita.”

O’Brien details the difficulties each woman faced, starting with simply learning to fly, then having access to a plane, and finding funding for flights. As readers learn about the five women, they also learn about the fledgling airplane manufacturing business.

O’Brien begins the “Introduction” with “in 1926, there were countless ways to die in an airplane.” Throughout Fly Girls, readers continue to learn about the ways pilots, crew members, and people on the ground died when wings iced over, propellers fell off, or planes lost altitude and crashed into the earth.

By 1926, women had fought for and earned the right to vote, but many avenues were still closed to them. O’Brien describes the ways that “gender roles were shifting, cultural norms were evolving, and the Great Depression had people questioning almost everything in America.”

Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Nichols, and Louise Thaden supported one another as their paths crossed over and over again in flying competitions and in promoting women as pilots. On one occasion, the female pilots all agreed to wait for a part to be flown in for Ameila Earhart so they could all take off together, not taking advantage of Earhart’s problem.

The women faced sabotage of their planes. Before one competition in Cleveland, the female pilots received a telegram with three words on it: “Beware of sabotage.” They found evidence of tampering when one woman discovered “every switch in the cockpit turned on, every throttle moved.” The women then sat up most of the night with the planes to avert any further damage. Thus, they started the race on only four hours sleep.

Swanee Taylor, announcer at Henderson’s air races, classified the women pilots into six categories: The Dependent Woman; The Athletic Girl; The Flapper; Little Lucy, The Timid Type;  The Talkative Woman, and the Good Egg.

Earhart was giving a talk to young women. She told them “two capital Ts stand in the way of their progress. One is Training – or lack of it. The other Tradition.” Earhart went on to say that “[a woman’s place] is wherever her individual aptitude places her. Or it should be anyway. And the work of married men and women should be split. She should taste the grind of earning a living – and he should learn the stupidity of housework.”

All of the women featured in Fly Girls are fascinating, but I was most captivated with Louise McPhetridge Thaden who came originally from Bentonville, AR, my home state. She has a page in The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture:


Mary Frances Files Silitch, my cousin, also a pilot and from Arkansas, has a page in The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture:  Mary Silitch was the first woman editor-in-chief of a national aviation magazine. October 28, 2010, Silitch was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame. Silitch’s accomplishments follow on the heels of the five women featured in Fly Girls, showing that women have not slowed down in their pursuit of their goals.

Mary Frances

Book reviewers have called Fly Girls “exhilarating” and “riveting.” Those terms are both relevant in describing a book that chronicles the difficulties those pioneering female pilots faced and the obstacles they overcame in the ever-present face of danger and criticism.

Keith O’Brien is a regular contributor to NPR. He also writes for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Slate, and Politico. O’Brien has also published a young readers’ edition of Fly Girls which should encourage young girls today to dream, set goals, and accomplish those dreams and goals.

At O’Brien’s site,, readers will discover additional material about Fly Girls along with a link a list of discussion questions found on Reading Group Choices.