The Explainer General
Russian pilot Marina Raskova was famous for her long-distance flying records. In WW II, she gathered the Soviet Army’s first female pilots into the 588th Women’s Night Bombardment Regiment. They wore hand-me-down pilots’ uniforms and, even worse, they had to cut their long hair to a regulation two inches.
Major Raskova worried about her girls. “Don’t you know the Germans will shoot at you?” she asked her new regiment. A woman yelled from the back, “Not if we shoot them first, Major Raskova!”
They flew Polikarpov U-2’s, fabric-covered wood and wire biplanes. The only way they could carry a load of six 50 pound bombs was to leave the weight of their parachutes behind.
They attacked in threes, cutting their engines and gliding down over German camps before dropping the bombs, only restarting their engines to head for home. The sleepless ground soldiers were especially upset when they learned that they were being bombed by women! The gliding whoosh just before the bombs reminded Germans of broom-sweeping, so they called them Nachthexen, “night witches.”
A German captain said, “We simply couldn't grasp that the Soviet airmen that caused us the greatest trouble were in fact women. These women feared nothing. They … wouldn't give us any sleep at all.”
The Luftwaffe was ordered to shoot the Night Witches down. Not easily done. The PoU2s flew slower than German fighters could fly without crashing. The cloth-and-wood biplanes didn’t appear clearly on radar, and they could maneuver more quickly than fast fighters.
Ground troops surrounded their camps with searchlights and antiaircraft cannon but the Witches outwitted them. Two PoU2s roared in under power to attract the searchlights and cannon, then separated, turning and jinking to escape, while the third biplane glided in quietly— bombs away! The Witches would join up and switch places until all three Witches had dropped their loads. They were persistent witches: they sometimes flew 18 missions every night.
Twenty-three of the brave women of the 588th received the USSR’s highest medal: Hero of the Soviet Union. A more tender award of flowers was given to them by admiring Free French pilots who flew from their airfields. The French pilots said:
Even if it were possible to gather and place at your feet all the flowers on earth, this would not constitute sufficient tribute to your valour
Jan Adkins is a superb storyteller as well as a talented illustrator and he is now available for classroom visits throughout the country. He is a member of INK's Authors on Call which uses Field Trip Zoom, a technology that requires only a computer, wifi, a webcam, and a roomful of enthusiastic children. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "The Night Witches: Dangerous Women." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 24 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
The Running Encyclopedia
, The trial of former German concentration camp guard Oskar Gröning provided a stark reminder of the World War II horrors that claimed the lives of more than 6,000,000 people, most of whom were Jews.
Perhaps the most famous victim was teenager Anne Frank.
She was born in 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany. Soon after Hitler and his Nazi Party came to power in 1933, Anne’s family moved to Amsterdam, Holland. In 1940, German forces invaded Holland, though the Franks managed to eke out a meager existence. For her 13th birthday, Anne’s presents included a diary.
Shortly afterward, the Franks were forced to go into hiding in “the Annex,” a hidden apartment. During the walk from their home to the Annex, they had worn all the clothing they could in the summer heat. Carrying a suitcase would have tipped off the Germans. Soon four other people joined the Franks. Several friends risked execution by supplying the fugitives with food and other necessities.
Anne’s diary reflected what they did during the long months of concealment. Many passages dealt with things she didn’t want to share—her feelings, her belief in God, and her desire to be an author. She made her final entry on August 1, 1944. A few days later, someone betrayed them. They were taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp. While many Jews were sent to the gas chambers as soon as they arrived, the Franks were put to work as slave laborers and provided with the most meager and unappetizing food.
Later they were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Early in 1945, a typhus epidemic killed thousands of prisoners. British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15 that year. But it was too late for Anne. She died, probably of typhus, in February or March. Her body was dumped into a mass grave.
When he returned to Amsterdam, Anne’s father Otto discovered that Anne’s diary had been saved. Reading it moved him profoundly. He decided to honor his daughter’s desire to be an author by publishing it.
Since then, millions of copies of The Diary of Anne Frank have been sold. In 1999, Time magazine honored Anne by putting her on the list of The Most Important People of the Century: “With a diary kept in a secret attic, she braved the Nazis and lent a searing voice to the fight for human dignity.”
After WWII, the State of Israel was founded and became a haven for Jews from around the world. Jim Whiting has written a book about this momentous event and you can read more about it here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Anne Frank and Her Diary." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 11
June 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Stories that Surprise and Inspire
When musicians play a lively tune, they often find themselves spontaneously tapping their toes and moving about to the pulsing beat. But when Ellen Ochoa played her flute at work one day in 1993, she couldn’t be spontaneous at all. If she hadn’t made careful plans, she could have been blown about the room, just by playing one long note on her flute. That’s because she was an astronaut working on the U.S. Space Shuttle as it circled Earth more than a hundred miles out in space.
Gravity is so weak far out in space that astronauts—and any of their gear that isn’t fastened down—will float about inside a space craft. Blowing air into her flute could have created enough force to actually send Ochoa zipping about the space shuttle cabin. So, to keep herself in place as she played, she had to slip her feet into strong loops attached to the floor.
Dr. Ochoa, now the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, was the first U.S. astronaut to bring a flute on a space mission, but she wasn’t the first to make music in space. Nearly thirty years earlier, in December 1965, two astronauts onboard the Gemini 6 space craft played a musical joke on mission control officials down on Earth. Those astronauts—Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and Thomas P. Stafford—told mission control that they saw an unusual object near their spaceship, a satellite perhaps, moving from North to South. They said they would try to pick up some sound from this mysterious object. Then they used the harmonica and bells they had secretly brought with them on that December mission to surprise folks listening down below by playing “Jingle Bells.”
In recent years, other astronauts have brought musical instruments on space missions to help lift their spirits, especially those who spend many months on the International Space Station. Like Dr. Ochoa, these astronaut musicians have to make adjustments, such as using a bungee cord to attach an electronic piano keyboard to a pianist’s leg.
Some astronauts have composed music in space, including Canadian Chris Hadfield. On May 6, 2013, he sang the song he wrote—called “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)”—in a live TV broadcast from the space station as thousands of Canadian schoolchildren sang along with him down on Earth. Click here for a recording of that space-to-Earth performance
Learning to play an instrument can be fun and, at times, frustrating. Amy Nathan's lively book helps young people cope with the difficulties involved in learning a new instrument and remaining dedicated to playing and practicing. Teens from renowned music programs - including the Juilliard School's Pre-College Program and Boston University's Tanglewood Institute - join pro musicians in offering practical answers to questions from what instrument to play to where the musical road may lead. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Nathan, Amy. "Music That's Out of This World." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 11 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Do you know about Harriet Quimby, Pioneer Aviator? In her time, the early 1900s, flying was still so new and dangerous. Every flier risked death whenever he climbed into a cockpit. I say ‘he’ because flying had mostly been a guy thing. That was especially true in Harriet’s time. People thought only a very bold, unladylike female would sign up for flying lessons. Or travel the world taking photos. Or hang around film studios, writing screenplays for silent movies. Or drive her own car. OR become America’s very first woman to earn a pilot’s license, as Harriet did, on August 1, 1911. Harriet did ALL of those things AND wrote newspaper stories about her adventures!
Like other early fliers, Harriet showed off her skills at very popular airshows. High above the crowds, pilots swooped through the sky in their tiny aircraft, difficult to manage in the windy air. When Louis Blériot made the first flight from France to England, in 1909, it was in a plane measuring 25 feet, 7 inches, wingtip to wingtip. The wingspan of a small plane today might be 36 feet and it weighs more than three times as much as Blériot’s 507-pounder!
Beautiful Harriet Quimby, in her purple satin flight suit, was famous. But she wanted more: If only she could match Mr. Blériot’s feat, she’d be the first woman to fly across the stormy English Channel. So, she borrowed one of Mr. Blériot’s little wood-cloth-and-wire airplanes and had it shipped to Dover, England. At dawn on April 16, 1912, Harriet soared up into the clouds, heading for France, 22 miles away. No GPS, radar, or radio. Just her watch and a compass. After an hour of freezing fog in her face, Harriet flew down out of the clouds to see France’s sandy shores. When she landed, people came rushing from all directions.
Alas for Harriet. Alas, alas for those on the doomed Titanic which disappeared under the ocean 27 hours before her flight. The terrible news overshadowed her accomplishment. And how could Harriet know that she had but ten weeks to live? On July 1, 1912, the crowd at a Boston airshow heard her screams as she fell from her little airplane to her death. And alas for us if we let time and tragedy overshadow how cool and brave she was: Harriet Quimby, First Lady of the Air.
Cheryl Harness has written a book about another heroic woman, Mary Walker. She was one of the first women doctors in the country. When the Civil War struck, she took to the battlefields in a modified Union uniform as a commissioned doctor. To find out more about Cheryl's book, click here.
Master Chef of Kids' Hands-On Science
Just the thought of Malala Yousafzai brings tears to my eyes. If you don’t know who she is, you should. In 2015, at the age of seventeen, she was the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
From the time she was eleven, she had a single purpose: to fight for the right to an education for every girl and boy on the planet. As a Pakistani, where women live life in the shadows, she has faced many obstacles in expressing her beliefs. In October of 2012, when she was fifteen, she was shot in the head on her school bus, the target of assassination. The Taliban claimed credit for this diabolical act. Miraculously, she survived without serious impairment. But the brutality of the Taliban did not stop her; neither did an earthquake, a flood, or the lack of financial resources. She continued to speak out on behalf of education for all.
I’ve read her memoir, I Am Malala. She is like the child in the fable The Emperor’s New Clothes who speaks unvarnished truth with the impeccable logic of the child who does not understand political correctness.
“If the [the Taliban] come, what would you do Malala? ...If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there will be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others...with cruelty...you must fight others but through peace, through dialogue and through education...then I’ll tell him [the Talib] how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well... that’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”
Like the, Diary of Ann Frank, you cannot escape the voice of a young girl who cares about her hopes and dreams for her future and that of the troubled world.
“I speak not for myself but for those without voice... those who have fought for their rights... their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
How can we motivate students to fight for their own interests in acquiring an education? How can we inspire them to do the hard work needed? Maybe they need to hear Malala speak.
Here, in the United States we have both the right and the availability to education, yet so many kids don't take advantage of it to make something of themselves. What lesson can we all take away from Malala?
Vicki Cobb's classic book, Science Experiments You Can Eat has been updated and enlarged and was released in July of 2016. You can also see Vicki's new winking caricature on her website.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council
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