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Soaring on the ground

The sister behind the Wright brothers' first flight

As replicas of the Wright brothers' Flyer soar through the sky celebrating the 100th year of its historic flight, a new children's picture book dips back in time to give us an intimate look at the two early aviators.

In Jane Yolen's "My Brothers' Flying Machine," readers are introduced to the famous pair, Wilbur and Orville, through the eyes of their younger sister, Katharine. This is no literary gimmick - Katharine did exist, and it's surprising that the brothers' story hasn't incorporated her more often. As Orville notes, "When the world speaks of the Wrights, it must include our sister. Much of our effort has been inspired by her."

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Yolen captures the affection, frustration, and excitement the Wrights experienced in the years of experimentation leading up to that successful 12-second flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Katharine's voice narrates this lyrical, poem-like story filled with events of a close-knit family - everything from the boys' fascination with their first rubber-band-powered paper plane to the untimely death of their supportive mother. Through it all, Katharine's interest in, and encouragement of, her brothers never waivers.

Illustrations by picture-book newcomer Jim Burke provide a comfortable, old-timey feel to this century-ago story. Full-page illustrations are skillfully created from a restricted palette of blue, gray, brown, and cream - often punctuated with red.

The subject matter, of course, is the siblings: Orv and Wil working together at the dining room table with Katharine looking on; an older Katharine reading her brothers' letters on the front porch; and finally, Katharine trying to embrace "all the sky" during her own first time aloft.

This lovely picture book provides a fascinating window into the personal lives of the men who proved we could fly.

Karen Carden reviews children's books for the Monitor.