A note from the blogger: I started this review in December but got distracted. When I was putting the finishing touches on it today, I checked the book's availability on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, only to find it is sold out. I found 5 used copies available, with the cheapest being $378. I suppose this means that if you want to read it you will probably need to get it from the library or download the ebook. It also means, "Wow! Heather must be right - this IS a great book!"
I discovered this book in the children's section and selected it as a Christmas gift for my dad, a WWII buff. The title suggests a religious story, but it's not. It's a true, historical adventure. Your 7, 8, or 9-year-old will really like this book.
Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw writes about Lt. Gail Halvorsen, a pilot for the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. At the end of the war when Russia blockaded West Berlin, the Germans living there were unable to receive shipments of food, fuel, or other necessary supplies via truck or train. The Western Allies organized the Berlin Airlift to drop tons of supplies each day onto the bombed-out city. Lt. Halvorsen was assigned to the airlift.
With only a fence separating Templehof Air Base from the people of West Berlin, Halvorsen was accustomed to seeing children lined up to watch the planes take off and land. When he stopped to talk to some of them one day, children who had lost their homes and were trapped inside the city without regular shipments of food, he soon understood how grateful they were for the efforts of pilots like himself. He felt compelled to give them something, but only had two sticks of gum in his pocket. When he saw the way the older children divided up those two sticks of gum to share with the others he was inspired to give them more of his rations and to see if his fellow airmen would join him.
His buddies were eager to join in, so Halvorsen devised a plan to attach candy to tiny parachutes and then drop the parachutes out of his C-54 Skymaster cargo plane over West Berlin for the children. Because there were so many planes flying over each day, a plane took off or landed every 30 seconds, he told the children he would wiggle his wings to let them know it was him. When the children saw his plane they rushed out to gather the candy "bombs."
Lt. Halvorsen's private mission was taken up by his commanding officer and became known as "Operation Little Vittles." Halvorsen earned the nickname "Uncle Wiggly Wings" and the "Candy Bomber." Soon, individuals and businesses all over the world began shipping tons of candy to the air base to be dropped for the children. American schoolchildren also took part by attaching candies to parachutes before shipment.
Hungry children, kind strangers, and an innovative idea to bring a little bit of happiness to those in need make for a very compelling story for children and grown-ups. Brokaw's writing is superbly simple and Robert T. Barrett's illustrations are warm and inviting. The high-quality photos of Lt. Halvorsen solidify the idea that he was, indeed, a real and heroic person. Many German children wrote thank-you notes to the "Candy Bomber" and some of these are included. There is also a page of instructions for making your own candy parachutes which could come in handy for any number of terrific purposes.
The feature that sealed the deal for me was the included DVD of Tom Brokaw telling the story at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas Show in 2012. Listening to that voice I grew up with set against the choir and orchestra was a moving experience for me. It also gives young readers an opportunity to read along as they listen to Brokaw's re-telling.
This story would be well-suited for 7-year-olds and up, especially those who enjoy airplanes or are learning about World War II. The DVD makes it a picture book that is appropriate for a grown-up. A more in-depth version of this story for older children was published by Michael O. Tunnell in 2010. You can find it on Amazon here
This version is also available as an ebook from Google Play, so you can read it during the next snow day. We all know it's coming!
If you choose to buy the ebook, you can find segments of the Tom Brokaw/Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance on YouTube. You can also enjoy a thorough interview with Colonel Halvorsen at Historynet.com.
If you read this book with your child, I would love to hear your thoughts about it. Or perhaps your child would like to share. Feel free to comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.