We’re in the midst of studying World War II and in one of those wonderful moments of serendipity I stumbled across this book by Michael O’Tunnell on the new books shelf in our library. Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” tells the story of Gail Halvorsen, an American Air Force pilot. It’s a story familiar to us from the picture book Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot by Margot Theis Raven.
I would recommend both books as they tell the same story from different perspectives. Both take place in a ravaged Berlin right after WWII. The Soviets blockaded the western part of Berlin and the Allies flew in food supplies to the Berliners in an attempt to keep the Soviets from gaining control of the entire city. One pilot, Lt. Halvorsen began dropping candy and chocolate to the children of West Berlin. These candy drops became a symbol of hope for the children in this war-torn country. The picture book focuses on Mercedes Simon, a real young girl who wrote to Lt. Halvorsen telling him how her family’s chickens are scared by the planes and won’t lay eggs but asking him to look for the chickens and drop the chocolate anyway. Halvorsen isn’t able to find her house but takes the time to write her and send her candy. The first time I read this story I cried at he epilogue where the author tells how Halvorsen and Mercedes were able to meet again years later and forged a life-long friendship.
Candy Bomber tells the story more from the perspective of Halvorsen and is much more thorough in explaining the historical background behind the Berlin Airlift and the details of the candy drops. O’Tunnell also includes many, many photographs (he worked closely with Halvorsen in writing the book and had access to fantastic documents and photographs). Included are photos of the real Mercedes Simon, which was fun to see after having read the picture book. O’Tunnell also goes on to talk about what Halvoresn’s life after his time in Berlin. He goes on to have a long career in the Air Force, including a stint as commander at the same German Air Field that he flew his chocolate plane from. He has been honored many times for his work during the Berlin Airlift, including a candy drop done to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the original candy drop. In that one, the children on the ground running for the candy included seven of his own grandchildren and some of Mercedes Simon’s children.
It’s always a little tough figuring out how to approach emotionally hard subjects with kids. I’m not a believer in avoiding any mention of the more terrible parts history but I also think that kids need to see some hope amongst the horror. We’ve talked about the devastation of WWII but Candy Bomber gives a glimpse of how one person can be a power for good even in a seemingly hopeless place. That’s a good story to read regardless of your age.
Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week at Stacking Books.