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Pilot Jane: A Guest Post from Caroline Baxter

Published on International Women’s Day, Pilot Jane and the Runaway Plane by Caroline Baxter, illustrated by Izabela Ciesinska, not only takes the reader on a whirl through cities of the world, but explores working as a team with a girl in the captain’s seat. This is a fun new addition for a young audience, with rhyming text, and a message about girl power, which follows in the footsteps of Zog and Pearl Power, and further perpetuates the trend for strong female protagonists in picture books. Here, Caroline gives us some background thoughts about her main character, Pilot Jane. 

  1. Pilot Jane is super clever. A bit like the baby in Simon James’s brilliant Baby Brains, she was a whizz at school and passed all her exams with flying colours. Her favourite subjects were maths, science and geography. By the time other children were in the toddler room at nursery, Jane had already progressed to pilot training and was taking her flight and ground exams. She was the youngest in her class to graduate (by at least 15 years) and was later promoted to airline captain.
  1. Pilot Jane loves flying more than anything in the world. She loves seeing the world from the air and finds each flight almost as exciting as the countries she visits. Pilot Jane is also very dedicated to her job. She prides herself on her ability to deliver her passengers safely to destinations worldwide, whatever the weather.
  1. Pilot Jane’s favourite city is Paris. She has visited many times for work and pleasure and enjoys spending time in the beautiful museums and galleries, hopping on a boat tour or soaking up the atmosphere in a café or restaurant. She also likes sampling all the different French pastries and can often be found near the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre with a croissant in hand.
  1. Jane was originally inspired to be a pilot by reading about the career in a children’s book. Bored with the usual tales of princesses and dresses that were given to her as a girl, she decided she’d like to do something different. Training to be a pilot also satisfied her need for a challenge and her love of travel and adventure.
  1. However, Jane may not be a pilot forever. Never one to sit still, at some point she may add to her skills – possibly by driving racing cars, writing travel books or becoming an astronaut. Anything is possible for Pilot Jane. She loves learning and she rules nothing out.
  1. Pilot Jane met her best friend Rose at flight training school. The two hit if off instantly and have flown together ever since. Each time at take-off they sing the same ‘girl power’ song and also love encouraging other girls (human or plane) to work hard and follow their dreams.
  1. Rose has won many awards for flying, including a ‘Fastest Plane’ award. When she’s not on passenger duty, she enters lots of races and loves to surprise the other planes (particularly the boys!) when she shoots past them, engine roaring.
  1. In her spare time, Pilot Jane has many hobbies. At the moment, she is learning Spanish and Chinese, she’s a proficient surfer, practises yoga and tai chi, enjoys horse-riding and rock-climbing and, of course, reads lots of books (particularly about the places she travels to). By contrast, Rose is quite happy to chill out and put her wheels up when she’s not flying or racing.
  1. Pilot Jane’s birthday is 8 March, which is also International Women’s Day.
  1. Pilot Jane’s proudest moment was when she was invited to the palace to take afternoon tea with the Queen. She and Rose had a fantastic time and the best Victoria sponge EVER! She and the Queen are now good friends and Pilot Jane sometimes pops by to help her walk her corgis.

With thanks to Caroline Baxter. You can buy Pilot Jane here

Book of the Week

The Song From Somewhere Else by AF Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold

This book came out in 2016 and rather slipped under the radar, but despite that, has continued to haunt me since I read it – in the same way that the song from somewhere else haunts our protagonist.

Frankie (Francesca) is out distributing leaflets to try to find her lost cat. But when she is hemmed in by bullies in the park, she is rescued by school outcast Nick Underbridge (the name is a carefully chosen clue to the later events in the story). Nick is ostracised in school, and smells slightly, but Frankie finds herself accompanying him home out of a sense of duty and thanks.

At his house, Frankie is drawn by a haunting and beautiful song, but she can’t locate where it comes from. She starts to spend more time with Nick, despite the worry that she too will be cast out at school because of the friends she keeps.

Gradually, the song exerts more and more influence and pull on her, and the story dovetails into part fairytale/part fantasy other world, as it becomes clear that the song originates from the dimension of another world – a kind of fairy tale world. With fairy tales comes danger and darkness, and Frankie’s friendship with Nick is tested to extreme limits when the two worlds collide.

The duality of the story is what makes it so special. The book is set in a time in which kids get on their bikes and ride to freedom, of lego and drawing, but also the internet and mobile phones, yet Harrold makes it feel sort of timeless. The effect of the everyday objects is to ground Frankie deeply in reality, within a contemporary story about friends and bullying, yet there are clear shadows of another world that seep into this – a fairy tale dimension that echoes the heightened emotions of our main story. There are both intensely dark and frightening emotions, and yet also visionary and pure and light overtones to this ‘magical’ dimension of the story. In this way, Harrold uses the duality of his fairy tale to mirror reality and his contemporary story – we all have the darkness and purity inside us.

Pinfold echoes this in his black and white illustrations – they are realistic in what they depict – the estate, a cat at night, Frankie on a bench, Nick’s Dad opening the front door. And yet, because of the shadows cast, the point of view from which the picture is drawn, the intensity of the pencil lines, and yes, more by what is hidden than what is shown – they are deeply dark and disturbing – mysterious and haunting. They feel slippery and ethereal.

The text too – telling a compelling story of friendship in a lyrical way – there is comedy and poetry mixed with darkness. Its evocative and ghostly. Each word is carefully chosen – it’s minimal, and pure.

But most of all, all this combines to make a text that is easy to read, and scattered with illustrations. In fact, the reader devours the book – identifying with the choices Frankie makes about friendship, and her conflicts within herself – especially when she is drawn to a song but can’t quite work out what it is or what it represents. It implies a feeling of loss and absence throughout, and leaves the reader with a sense of bittersweet sadness, as well as uplifting lightness.

This is a great book for deciphering and picking apart friendships – understanding not only who we choose to be friends with, but also how we demonstrate our loyalty to our friends, and how we come to understand them. It’s a shame that it hasn’t been picked up by award lists…this is a hidden gem – perhaps it needs to come out of its own shadows.

Suitable for 9+ years. You can buy it here.