Five years ago, author and aviation enthusiast Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail was looking for a book to read to her two-year-old son Andre when she discovered a gap in the children’s book market.
“I realized that there weren’t a lot of aviation ABC books on the market for kids that were wiggly and squirmy and spirited like he was,” Metcalfe-Chenail said in an interview on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active on Tuesday.
Metcalfe-Chenail, now based in Houston, Tex., is the former president of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society and a former historian laureate for the City of Edmonton.
She is the author of two popular aviation histories for adults, Polar Winds: A Century of Flying the North and For the Love of Flying.
Her new book, Alis the Aviator, launched last week in Edmonton, is her first picture book. It takes children through the ABCs of aviation.
“It was such a great way to highlight some of the cool names of airplanes,” Metcalfe-Chenail said, highlighting Canadian airplane names in particular. “We have cool names like the Avro Arrow, the Beaver and the Chipmunk.”
Indigenous female pilot
The title character and guide to the book, Alis, was inspired by Alis B. Kennedy, likely one of the first Indigenous women to obtain a commercial pilot’s licence in Canada.
“I thought she would be a great person to inspire little boys and girls to enter aviation,” Metcalfe-Chenail said.
Back in the 1970s when Kennedy received her commercial pilot’s licence, the accompanying letter read, “Dear Sir,” the Ontario-based Métis woman told CBC.
Reached at her home in Woodbridge, Ont., Kennedy said she felt honoured to be chosen as the inspiration for the children’s book.
“To have a book with me as an inspiration is a great, humbling honour,” Kennedy said.
She hopes to encourage girls and women to believe that it’s possible to succeed in a “man’s world,” Kennedy said.
“And for the boys and men to understand that we also have dreams and to accept that we can all be in the same world,” she added.
Despite having a son, it was important to Metcalfe-Chenail to have a female protagonist in the book, she said.
“Women in aviation has been one of my passions for a long time and unfortunately they are under-represented in aviation,” she said, estimating only six or seven per cent of airline pilots in Canada are women. “So even though I have a son, I wanted him to be reading books that featured women as well.”
Alis the Aviator can be ordered through bookstores and is also in stock at Audreys Books in Edmonton.