Jack Knight's Brave Flight: How One Gutsy Pilot Saved the Us Air Mail Service

by Jill Esbaum (Author) Stacy Innerst (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

High-flying history is brought to life in this suspenseful story of an unknown and daring pilot named Jack Knight, who in 1921 flew his biplane straight into a blizzard over America's heartland and saved the US Air Mail Service in the process.

When Jack Knight takes off in his biplane from North Platte, Nebraska, in 1921, hundreds of people crowd the airstrip. Is Jack transporting a famous passenger? Is he ferrying medicine for a sick child? Nope -- Jack has six sacks of mail.

For the past few years, biplanes like Jack's have been flying the mail only during daylight hours. Flying after dark is risky and crashes are too common, so lawmakers decide to cut funding for the US Air Mail Service. Outraged officials and pilots want to prove that flying the mail is best, so they concoct a plan--a coast-to-coast race.

But when a crash, exhaustion, and a snowstorm ground three of the planes, Jack Knight becomes the race's only hope. All he has to do is fly all night long, leaning out of the plane to see, and navigate a blizzard over land he's never covered . . . with an empty fuel tank. Will Jack pull it off and save the Air Mail Service?

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Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review

This fast-paced picture book outlines the landmark night flight of pilot James H. “Jack” Knight (1892–1945), who helped extend the life of the U.S. Air Mail Service by serving as a relay pilot in the first overnight cross-country U.S. airmail delivery. In snappy, climactic prose, Esbaum traces the obstacles Knight encountered, including bodily discomfort and an unavoidable blizzard in Illinois: “This is no ordinary mail flight. This is an all-day, all-night, coast-to-coast race to save America’s struggling Air Mail Service.” Innerst’s atmospheric illustrations conjure the rough elements and close quarters in deep blues and cool gray washes, with fluid figures, stamped text, and finely brushed details adding texture. A riveting journey about an undersung aviator. Back matter includes creators’ notes and a timeline sharing highlights in the history of the U.S. mail. Ages 7–10. (Mar.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission

School Library Journal

This historical adventure has great appeal and may renew kids’ interest in the postal service; a valuable addition to nonfiction collections.
Jill Esbaum

JILL ESBAUM is a widely published author of books for young readers. She is a frequent school visitor and conference speaker. She teaches writing for children at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Calkins Creek Books
Publication date
March 20, 2022
BISAC categories
JNF007020 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Historical
JNF025210 - Juvenile Nonfiction | History | United States/20th Century
JNF057010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Transportation | Aviation
Library of Congress categories

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