Billie Swift Takes Flight
1 Feb. 2022
Paperback / softback
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When twelve-year-old Bill is out exploring with her pet chicken, she sees a plane crash into a field and is left wondering if the pilot even survived. Determined to find out more, Bill finds a way into the ATA a group of amazing pilots who defy the odds to get planes from the factories to the front lines and her life changes for ever. Some of the pilots are men who are too old, or too injured for the air force. But many more are women. Intrepid, inspiring women who show Bill what she might grow up to become.
With missions including ferrying turkeys over from Ireland and flying unfamiliar, broken planes, Bill is desperate to help. But piloting fighter planes could turn out to be more than she bargained for...
InformationBook Type: Junior High
Age Group: 10 to 13 years
Traffic Lights: Green/Amber
Class Novel: Yes
Good Reads Rating: 4.5/5
Literary Rating: 4.5/5
Billie isn’t like other kids her age. She is obsessed with planes and has an uncanny ability to tell what type of plane is overhead just by the engine noise, her best friend is a chicken called Susan, and she often says whatever she is thinking. School—where any meltdowns she might have are viewed as attempts to get attention—is her least favourite place.
When a Spitfire crashes in a nearby field, Billie is too nervous to tell anyone about it. She feels terrible for not helping—especially as she doesn’t know what happened to the pilot—but can’t bring herself to confess she was somewhere she shouldn’t have been, especially as she has been warned multiple times about the aggressive gamekeeper and his habit of scaring people off with his shotgun.
The next day, there’s no sign of the Spitfire, which seems very strange. Determined to find out what happened, Billie sneaks onto the local airfield, dressed in her brother’s clothes, and is mistaken for a cadet. It’s a momentous day to be there, as the First Lady and Mrs Churchill soon arrive on a secret visit, and Billie manages to both offend Mrs Churchill and amuse Mrs Roosevelt!
Her friend Tommy helps cover up her real age, and let everyone at the airfield think she is 14-years-old (the required age for cadets).Instead of going to school like she is supposed to, she spends her days working and training at the airfield. Her parents have no idea what she is up to, especially as her mum works long hours as an ambulance driver.
Stone, an arrogant RAF pilot who is under investigation, is at odds with Billie from their first meeting. He crashed the Spitfire and has lied about what happened. Stone doesn’t know how to handle Billie’s lack of filter, and doesn’t hesitate to threaten and bribe her to keep quiet about what she saw. Certain that Stone is up to no good, and suspicious that he might be a spy, Billie won’t give up until she finds out exactly what is going on.
When a ticking bag is found in one of the planes—after blowing it up they discover it was filled with black market ladies undergarments, and three men’s watches—Stone tries to blame Billie, before turning on Nancy, an American pilot and her friend. When Billie finally tells the Commander what she knows about the Spitfire and her suspicions about Stone, she is told they will no longer continue her pilot training. Whatever Stone may or may not have done, Billie waited a long time to tell the truth and had failed to do get help for the pilot at the time. They no longer trust her.
Despite her devastation, Billie knows she must clear Nancy’s name. Her determination leads her to a conspiracy far greater than she ever imagined…
Through it all, Billie learns the importance of both speaking up and being truthful, and both her attention to detail and her courage help stop an even greater disaster.
This engaging book, set in England during WWII, provides insight into what it may have been like for neuro-divergent kids before there was any awareness or diagnoses. Billie is a great character, and both her strengths and challenges are well depicted. A great story for middle grade readers.
sensory processing disorder, undiagnosed autism, neuro-divergence, smuggling, planes, World War II, segregation, flying, friendship, secrets, bias, racism, inequality, mystery, traitor, courage, truth, honesty, trust
1. The gamekeeper shoots at Billie for trespassing (p8). He and his dog are referred to as the ‘demon gamekeeper and his bloodthirsty wolf’ (p9). 2. Billie has a meltdown at school and bites her own arm (p20). 3. References to hunting and slaughtering rabbits, and killing and eating chickens (no descriptions). 4. Billie’s brother Michael is a POW. 5. References to adults smoking and drinking. After an extremely cold flight, a farmer gives Billie a whisky to warm her up (p203). 6. References to many people dying in the bombing of Coventry (p59). 7. Language: bloody hell x p (p61). 8. Ramsay has a speech impediment, which is spelt out everytime he speaks, eg. ‘it’s wevolting’ (p101). 9. Stone treats Billie badly, calling her Dumbo after the elephant. On hearing that Billie’s brother is a POW, Stone responds ‘bet you’d rather he was dead’ (p126-7). Billie’s mother can be insensitive, eg. ‘don’t you want to be normal’ (p133). 10. American pilots treat Black members of the RAF with disrespect and prejudice, calling them ‘boy’ etc. (p178-9). Billie is shocked to learn about segregation—although the English are often also rude to Blacks, they have never had segregation in England (p182-3). 11. The Spitfire was filled with black market whisky, and Stone set it on fire to stop the authorities from discovering what he was up to. 12. Cummings and Stone are smuggling black market goods, but Stone doesn’t realise—until it’s almost too late—that Cummings is also collaborating with the Nazis. He tells them to bomb another airfield—from which he and Stone are planning to steal a plane filled with gold intended to buy up Sweden’s supply of ball bearings thereby crippling German industry—and almost everyone is killed, including Cummings. Billie witnesses the bombing (p298).