High Flight: A Story of World War II
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Ages 8 to 12
Tundra, 1999, 0-88776-469-X
John Gillespie Magee Jr. had an interesting life. It began in China where he was born, the son of two missionaries. When he was nine John was sent to school in England. He quickly fell in love with the English countryside and was popular in the schools that he went to. When he was at Rugby, a very famous private school for boys, John began to write poetry. Some of his writings were unremarkable but there were a few which were promising enough to capture the attention of his teachers. Like another young Rugby poet, Rupert Brooke, John won the prestigious Rugby School Poetry Prize.
When he was just eighteen John told his parents that he wanted to go into the Canadian Air Force. At the time he was due to enter Yale University but like so many other young men, John wanted to join the fight against Nazi Germany before it was all over. By flying in the Royal Canadian Air Force, John could fight for England even though he was an American citizen. It was 1940 and at that time America had not yet joined the war. Quite a few young American men chose to join the RCAF so they could get into the war as soon as possible.
John did well in his training and in September 1941 he was posted to a Fighter Squadron in England. Soon after arriving in England John wrote a poem which he sent to his parents. It was a poem which captured the imagination of many people. It would touch the hearts of even more after John was killed in action just a few months after writing the poem. His poem, which is called “High Flight” would be printed in countless books, newspapers, and pamphlets, and it has inspired and comforted thousands of people. There is no doubt that John’s short and powerful little poem was his greatest legacy, a legacy which still moves people who read his poem today.
In this beautifully written picture book biography, the author shows her readers what John Magee’s short life was like. She also helps her readers understand what was happening in John’s world, and how the lives of many people were turned upside down by a war which affected people all over the planet. Perhaps most importantly she strongly emphasizes that John’s poem was undoubtedly his greatest contribution to the war effort. It inspired other fliers to keep on going, it helped families who had lost loved ones on the field and in the air, and it gave people hope that one day all the killing and misery would be over.
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