Sprouting Wings: The True Story of James Herman Banning, the First African American Pilot to Fly Across the United States

by Louisa Jaggar (Author) Floyd Cooper (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

The inspirational and true story of James Herman Banning, the first African American pilot to fly across the country, comes to life in this picture book biography perfect for fans of Hidden Figures and Little Leaders. Includes art from a Coretta Scott King award-winning illustrator.

James Herman Banning always dreamed of touching the sky. But how could a farm boy from Oklahoma find a plane? And how would he learn to fly it? None of the other pilots looked like him.

In a journey that would span 3,300 miles, take twenty-one days, and inspire a nation, James Herman Banning proved that you can't put barriers on dreams. Louisa Jaggar incorporates over seven years of research, including Banning's own writings and an interview with the aviator's great-nephew. She teams up with cowriter Shari Becker and award-winning illustrator Floyd Cooper to capture Banning's historic flight across the United States.

Kirkus Reviews

A story well worth sharing. 

Publishers Weekly

Jaggar and Becker offer a comprehensive picture book biography of James Herman Banning, covering his childhood flying kites, the years he spent teaching others to fly, and his triumph as the first Black birdman--with Thomas Cox Allen--to make the transcontinental flight from California to New York. Sensory details ("James scrambled out of the plane and ran, but he could still smell the oil and gas, feel the controls in his hand") and substantiated quotes help scenes come alive, while Cooper's oil on board illustrations offer varying perspectives and imbue texture and nuance. Dense paragraphs and a leisurely pace make this less ideal for a readaloud, but its edifying, empowering narrative will enthrall aspiring aviators and young history buffs. Back matter includes an author's note from Jaggar. Ages 5-7. (Jan.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

An irresistibly inspiring story for all ages. -Kathryn Erskine, author of the National Book Award winner Mockingbird

A richly illustrated account of the remarkable career of aviation pioneer James Herman Banning.-Von Hardesty, author of Black Wings: Courageous Stories of African Americans in Aviation and Space History

A marvelous work that does its hero proud. - Allan Stratton, author of the Michael L. Printz Honor Book Chanda's Secrets

An exhilarating story about (African)-American achievement! Sure to captivate and inspire young people, to follow their dreams, begin their journey, push through adversity until they reach their goals. -Jeantique Oriol, actor and star of The Flying Hobos

Sprouting Wings is the story of a dream, ingenuity, guts, bravery, and determination. -Gary Schmidt, two-time Newbury Honor winner and National Book Award finalist

This story reminds me of a determined little girl who also took to the skies and became the first African American woman to fly and receive an international license, my great aunt Bessie Coleman! -Dr. Jilda D. Motley
Louisa Jaggar
Louisa Jaggar has been a columnist for Washington Parent and has contributed articles to Diversion and the online site Family Travel Network. She has written for PBS and the University of Chicago, among others. She lives near Washington, D.C.

Shari Becker was born in Montreal, Quebec, and was raised speaking both English and French. She has an MA from New York University and has worked for Nickelodeon, several Disney-owned companies, and even an Emmy Award-winning puppeteer. She is the author of two picture books, including Maxwell's Mountain, a Junior Library Guild Selection and Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book. She lives in Massachusetts, with her husband, their two daughters, and their dog.

Floyd Cooper received a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations in The Blacker the Berry and a Coretta Scott King Honor for Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea and I Have Heard of a Land. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Floyd received a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma and, after graduating, worked as an artist for a major greeting card company. In 1984, he came to New York City to pursue a career as an illustrator of books, and he now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife and children.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Crown Books for Young Readers
Publication date
January 20, 2021
BISAC categories
JNF018010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JNF025210 - Juvenile Nonfiction | History | United States/20th Century
JNF007090 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Science & Technology
Library of Congress categories
Picture books
United States
Air pilots
Banning, James Herman
African American
African American air pilots
Cross-country flying

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