In the third in as many years of his biographical titles for children, in Sky High Jean Batten’s Incredible Flying Adventures, well-known New Zealand Author, David Hill, has taken on the task of bringing our ‘Hine-o-te-Rangi’ or ‘Daughter of the Skies’, Jean Batten, to life.
Following the format of Hill and Morris’ previous two titles– First to the Top, Sir Edmund Hilary’s Amazing Everest Adventure (2015) and Speed King: Burt Munro, the World’s Fastest Indian (2016) – Sky High tells the story in a simple and engaging way of one of our national heroes.
Batten’s is an inspiring, if bittersweet, story – in 1934 she set a world record for the fastest flight from England to Australia. Just two years later, she made the first-ever solo flight from England to New Zealand. Hill starts his tale with a cliff-hanger, brings in enough quirky details – such as Jean being given a cat in Sydney that then crossed the ocean with her – to bring her character to life.
Hill’s Batten is determined, fearless and wily. I enjoyed details such as, ‘Jean was very pretty, and men often fell in love with her. Some loaned her money (she didn’t always pay them back).’ But the ending of Jean’s life is unescapably sad. The book presents the facts of Jean’s life simply but doesn’t flinch away from her troubles after she gave up flying. ‘Slowly, most the for the world forgot Jean Batten… She died on 22 November 1982, alone and unknown.’
Phoebe Morris made her debut as a children’s book illustrator with First to The Top but has proven her ability in this series. Like its predecessors, in Sky High the illustrations are engaging and grown up enough to appeal to the target audience: 5-10 year olds. Just as with the previous titles in this series, there’s a handy time line at the back of the book for older readers.
Both Speed King and First to the Top were Storyline Notable Picture Books, and I have no doubt that Sky High Jean Batten’s Incredible Flying Adventures will be the same.