There are all sorts of ABC books out there, but they are seldom as focussed on a particular subject as this one, which manages to do the job of introducing all the letters while remaining firmly in the air.
The Alis of the title is named for Dr. Alis Kennedy, who was one of the first indigenous women to get her commercial pilot’s licence in Canada. There’s a full page biography and a second page of photographs about Kennedy following the last alphabet page. Now retired from flying and the military, she does a lot of community volunteer work (11 different groups) and most recently, in 2017, was the flagbearer for that year’s Invictus Games.
It’s quite neat to be reviewing this book the same week that the media has reported that Champagne and Aishihik citizen Shadunjen van Kampen has obtained her pilot’s licence, and is now believed to be the first Yukon First Nations woman to be commercially licensed.
Metcalfe-Chanail has taken the route of naming 26 different types of flying machines – mostly aircraft, but one hot air balloon and a zeppelin. The text is in simple rhymed couplets, and begins this way.
“A is for Arrow, the one that got away.
“B is for Beaver, great for work and play.”
Of particular interest to us is the page for the Canadian Pacific Dakota aircraft, which is shown as a weather vane outside the Yukon Transportation Museum. There is also a spread on the Queen of the Yukon, sister ship to Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, a page illustrated with a facsimile of the front page of the Whitehorse Star from May 11, 1928.
The individual pages don’t give a lot of information about the aircraft, but the author and artist have taken care of that with an illustrated glossary in which each aircraft gets a full paragraph of explanation.
The artwork in this book is bright and cheerful and surprisingly three dimensional, with each page rendered in cut paper by Patel, who is based in Toronto. Alis is the continuing figure on each page, and is somehow drawing attention to the aircraft that is the main feature.
It’s been 10 years since Danielle Metcalfe-Chanail spent three months living and working at the Berton House Writers Residency in Dawson. If you Google her name and the program you can see a number of blog posts that she made at the time. While she now lives in Houston, Texas, she was based at that time in Calgary and working on a book about aviation in the north. She researched A Century of Flying in the North while she was here, using Berton House as her base camp from which to travel all over the Yukon. She is a former president of the Canadian Aviation History Society and also edited an anthology called In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation.