Alis the Aviator
Alis the Aviator
A is for Arrow, the one that got away.
B is for Beaver, great for work and play.
Though the top line on the book’s cover reads “AN ABC AVIATION ADVENTURE”, Alis the Aviator is not an “adventure” in the conventional meaning of that word. Instead, it is simply an ABC book that introduces its readers to the upper case letters of the English alphabet and that, with five* exceptions, employs the name of an aircraft type to represent the letters of the alphabet. As can be seen in the excerpt above, Metcalfe-Chenail’s brief, patterned text is rendered consistently in rhyming couplets. Accompanied by Patel’s cut paper illustrations, most letters are treated on a single page though a few receive double-page spreads.
While not made explicit, the aircraft types seemingly all have some connection to Canada. Most of the aircraft are from times past and will not likely be known to today’s children unless they have access to military or general aircraft museums. As can be seen in the examples cited in the “Excerpt”, the book’s main text actually says very little about each letter’s aircraft; however, Metcalfe-Chenail provides a concluding four-page “Glossary” where, accompanied by additional Patel illustrations, she provides factual information about each of the letters’ examples. In the main text, the wording for “L” read: “L is for Lancaster, known for wartime drops.” The letter’s entry in the “Glossary” section reads:
LANCASTER: Lancasters were huge four-engine bomber aircraft used by the Allies during WWII. Most of the early ones were built in England, but in 1942, they started manufacturing them at Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario, where a quarter of the employees were women.
Though the information in the above passage is accurate, to be meaningful it demands much from the publisher’s intended audience of three to seven-year-olds. What/who were the “Allies”; what was WWII; and, for children in 2019, why was it significant for the author to point out that women made up 25% of the plant’s workforce? In short, the main text and glossary text appear to be aimed at two different audiences.
Patel’s cut paper illustrations are bright and attractive; however, they do not successfully capture the three dimensional aspects of aircraft, especially when it comes to portraying wings, tails and propellers.
And then there is the question of the title’s “Alis” who visually appears throughout the book, sometimes as a child or as a teen or an adult. Only when child listeners/readers complete the closing “Z is for Zeppelins, explorers setting forth!” spread and turn the page do they discover two pages that provide an explanation. In a page titled “ABOUT DR. ALIS KENNEDY”, Metcalfe-Chenail informs readers that Alis held both a private and commercial pilot’s license and “was likely the first Indigenous woman in Canada to do so.” The facing page contains six black and white “family album style” photos of Alis as a child or young woman. Given the book’s title, it is most unfortunate that none of the photos show Alis Kennedy as an aviator.
*The exceptions are “H is for hot air balloon, up above it floats”; “P is for parachute, a jump like no other”; “Q is for Queen, which crashed into the loam”; “Sis for Silver Dart, the first in Canada’s skies”; and X is for Experimental – not quite done.”.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.