Quotable Nerdy Chick: Elinor Smith

Last week, I interviewed Tami Lewis Brown, author of picture book, Soar, Elinor! Today the subject of that book, aviator Elinor Smith, is our quotable nerdy chick.

28smith_CA0-popupIn 1927, Elinor became the youngest licensed pilot in the world. She was only 16. During her flying career, she set multiple solo endurance, speed, and altitude records, and was named by fellow fliers the 1930 female pilot of the year. Amelia Earhart was in the news, but pilots considered Elinor a better flier. Celebrated as “the flying flapper,” Elinor was the first woman featured on a Wheaties cereal box.

Elinor retired from flying at age 29 to focus on her family, but resumed flying after her husband died in 1956. In 2000, at age 88, she became the oldest pilot to complete a simulated shuttle landing.

Elinor Smith Quotes:

• Children must be allowed to dream and have a horizon to work toward. For me there was only one path: I knew from age six that I wanted to fly. Flying was the very breath of life to me and I was successful because I loved it so much.

• I remember so vividly my first time aloft that I can still hear the wind swing in the wires as we glided down. By the time the pilot touched the wheels gently to earth, I knew my future in airplanes and flying was an inevitable as the freckles on my nose.

• I had been brought up to think that anyone could do anything he or she put his or her mind to, so I was shocked to learn that the world had stereotypes it didn’t want tampered with. In an age when girls were supposed to be seen and not heard, look beautiful, and occasionally faint, I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.

I love this one:

• It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

 And some tongue-in-cheek words about motherhood:

• It sometimes happens, even in the best of families, that a baby is born This is not necessarily cause for alarm. The important thing is to keep your wits about you and borrow some money.

• The day I need a television puppet or clown to tell my children what’s right and what’s wrong, I’ll bow out as a mother.

You can read more about Elinor Smith here and here.

Even if you have never piloted a plane, have you gone out and “happened to things?”

Author Tami Lewis Brown: Finding her Wings

TamiLewisBrownI met author Tami Lewis Brown at a Highlights Foundation Workshop, where she was a mentor and I was a mentee. Tami grew up in Kentucky and attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College. She’s been a lawyer, and more recently, writer-in-residence and librarian at The Sheridan School in Washington, D.C. With a background like this, Tami makes the perfect subject for a Nerdy Chicks interview.

Aviator Elinor Smith’s story, which inspired Tami’s picture book Soar, Elinor!, motivated Tami to become a pilot and a lawyer. Tami says “Everyone in my family flew. Each time someone told me ‘it’s a man’s world,’ I thought of Elinor’s unquenchable drive to be herself and live her dreams. Where others built barriers, Elinor saw nothing but wide open horizons.”

Now, let’s get to know Tami.

Your picture book, Soar Elinor, is the biography of a remarkable aviator, Elinor Smith. At 16, she was the youngest person to get a pilots license. At 17,Soar-Elinor-Final-Cover she flew UNDER four bridges that spanned New York City’s East River in 1928. Why did you decide to write a book about this daredevil? I’m a children’s book writer and a pilot, so writing a book for kids about the youngest pilot in America was a natural. But when I learned about the passion and hard work Elinor put into achieving her dream to become a professional pilot, I couldn’t wait to share her story. When she was only six years old, Elinor decided her future was in the cockpit and she didn’t let anything stand in her way.

I got a kick out of your middle grade novel, The Map of Me, in which two sisters set out on a journey to bring home their missing mother. Your main character, 12-year-old Margie, is almost as daring as Elinor was, but with a car instead of a plane. How does writing fiction differ from writing non-fiction? It may seem obvious, but when writing fiction you get to make everything up, but with nonfiction you have to stick to the facts. The thing that surprised me is how similar writing nonfiction and fiction can be. A biography may be the story of someone’s life, but a biographer still has to think about theme, structure, tension, resolution—all the same elements present in a work of fiction.

map-rev-comp-2_1-18-jpeg-202x300Would you consider Margie and little sister Peep nerdy chicks? Does their nerdiness or lack of nerdiness affect their journey? Peep is the ultimate nerd. She’s super smart and absolutely proud of it—as she should be. Margie’s bold and bright, too, but she has to work to accept her true nerdiness. That’s the story of The Map Of Me, really—a journey to self acceptance.

That’s a journey we all have to go through. On your journey, what has been one of your favorite nerdy chick achievements? For me, nerdiness means finding your passion and sticking with it, through thick and thin, to achieve your goal. It doesn’t matter if your passion is cool or in fashion as long as it matters deeply to you. My favorite nerdy achievements are writing and publishing Soar, Elinor! and The Map of Me. Following those stories from the grain of an idea to book in print took way more determination, patience, hard work and passion than I ever expected. And I did it!

I could tell when I met you that you are a fun person. What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? Practically everything I do is nerdy, and hopefully most of what I do is at least a little bit fun. One special thing that comes to mind is Skyping with girl scout troops. I do free Skype visits with scout troops, book clubs, and classrooms. I LOVE talking about reading, writing, and being nerdy with actual kids. You can find out more about my Skype visits here.

I watched you Skype to a classroom in Prague and the kids had a blast.

Thanks so much, Tami, for spending time with our Nerdy Chicks! Elinor Smith will be our Quotable Nerdy Chick next week.

You may visit Tami at her website or her facebook page.