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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Ann McCallum Staats and Sneak Peek at High Flyers

Since the release date got backed up due to the dreaded 'supply chain,' instead of a book birthday post, I get to offer you a sneak peek at an exciting STEM nonfiction YA book on fifteen amazing female pilots. Women who fly anything from helicopters to military jets to space craft. As well as a quick chat with its wonderful author, Ann McCallum Staats.

Author photo of Ann McCallum Staats

Hi, I’m Ann!

I teach, mentor, and write books. Most of my books are about nonfiction topics like aviation, space, extreme sports, cooking, and STEM. I am DEEPLY curious about a wide variety of topics. Mostly, I love to connect with young people and share my enthusiasm. My books have received awards like ForeWord’s Gold Book of the Year and Junior Library Guild recognition. Hailing from British Columbia, Canada, I have a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). I have taught at the elementary and secondary levels as well as post-secondary at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE (hello, sand skiing!). I live in Virginia where I have a view of the woods from my desk. It’s an honor and pleasure to write books and speak to audiences.

Ann is the author of Thrill Seekers: 15 Remarkable Women in Extreme Sports (CRP, 2021), Women Heroes of the U.S. Army: Remarkable Soldiers from the American Revolution to Today (CRP, 2019), Eat Your U.S. History Homework: Recipes for Revolutionary Minds (Charlesbridge, 2015), Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds (Charlesbridge, 2014), Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds (Charlesbridge, 2011), Rabbits, Rabbits Everywhere: A Fibonacci Tale (Charlesbridge, 2007), Beanstalk: The Measure of a Giant (Charlesbridge, 2006), and The Secret Life of Math (Charlesbridge, 2005).

Cover images of all the above listed books.

Her newest STEM nonfiction book High Flyers: 15 Inspiring Women Aviators and Astronauts (Chicago Review Press), releases August 2nd.

Hi Ann, what was your inspiration for High Flyers: 15 Inspiring Women Aviators and Astronauts ?

Cover image of High Flyers: 15 Inspiring Women Aviators and Astronauts

A couple of years ago I was on a commercial flight from Washington, DC, to Vancouver, Canada. As we were boarding, the pilot—a woman—came out of the cockpit to greet the passengers. I asked her what had inspired her to become a pilot. We chatted for a moment or two and I told her, “I need to write your story.” While I lost track of that particular pilot, the idea for writing about women aviators took root.

How many were there? What was it like to train for this profession? What were the hurdles? Did they ever want to quit?

I decided to organize my collection of pilots by altitude. Lower altitudes meant helicopter pilots, small plane pilots, and even a hot-air balloonist. The next region of the sky was reserved for commercial and jet pilots, along with other military flyers. But what about even higher? Why restrict myself to the bounds of earth? I decided to include astronauts in my survey.

What a wonderful way to organize these biographies of amazing women. Here's a look at the fun section titles and the diverse collection of pilots this book features:

Part I: Elevated [10,000 to 18,000 feet]

1. Brooke Roman: Flying over Alaska

2. Tammy Duckworth: Pilot Turned Politician

3. Edgora McEwan: On the Rise

4. Dede Murawsky: Horseback to Medevac

5. Anne MacDonald: A Rank Above

Part II: Altitude [30,000 to 45,000 feet]

6. Tammie Jo Shults: Flying Past the No’s

7. Katie Higgins Cook: Blue Angel Icon

8. Olga Custodio: Where there’s a Will

9. Kimberly Scott Ford: The Glide-Path Forward

10. Ronaqua Russell: SemperParatus—Always Ready

Part III: Outside Earth [62+ miles]

11. Mae C. Jemison: No Limits

12. Ellen Ochoa: Music Amongst the Stars

13. Samantha Cristoforetti: Home in Space

14. Karen Nyberg: Space Artist

15. Anousheh Ansari: Entrepreneur in Space

What kinds of challenges did you face in researching and writing High Flyers?

Writing this book was full of challenges. It was Covid, for one, and the world seemed full of doom and gloom …

Until I started interviewing and researching these amazing women.

All of them started from humble beginnings and none had it easy. Some experienced ‘no’ after ‘no’ when they tried to pursue their dream of flying. There were money issues, family issues, competition for limited aviation or astronauts slots, and even gender inequities. One character trait these women have in common, though, is the grit and determination to keep going.

This was my spark, my impetus to keep going, too. Writing can be hard. It’s also full of insight and delight and personal growth. I was honored to talk to, learn from, and write about these inspiring women. They dreamed big and soared high. No matter the goal, big or small, others can, too.

Sounds like a great source of inspiration for everyone to use in reaching for their own dreams. Especially since the women highlighted in this collection are both famous (Tammy Duckworth & Mae C. Jemison) and "everyday" (Brooke Roman - oil company pilot & Edgora McEwan, an Uzbekistan hot air balloon pilot) women.

So Ann, as a bit of an odd ball question, if you could meet anyone real or imaginary, who would that be and why?

Oh, such a hard choice. I’m going to have to go with J.K. Rowling, though. She wrote on a napkin. She was at the poverty line. She had nothing but obstacles ahead—plus a really good story. I would LOVE to pick her brain and learn about her path to incredible success. We’d need at least a weekend …

At least. But it might be an enlightening weekend. And do you have a favorite National Park, City, or local park? Or one you're dreaming of visiting?

Photo of the lake and mountain range at Banff National Park

The first that pops to mind is Banff National Park in the spectacular Canadian Rockies. But perhaps that doesn’t count. If we’re talking about a US National Park, then I’m going to have to pick Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (I keep cheating—now I’ve picked two!). Here is the land of giants, the incredible sequoias that defy logic in their grandeur. I haven’t been there yet, but it’s on my list!

We will go with Banff. It's definitely not cheating! Though I do hope you get to visit Sequoia NP one day!

Thank you Ann for stopping by to share a bit about your inspiration for this wonderful STEM book on women Aviators and Astronauts.

For more information about Ann McCallum Staats, or to contact her:

Before I close this post, I want to give you all just a little more information about this wonderful STEM book.

Cover image of High Flyers: 15 Inspiring Women Aviators and Astronauts

As the opening lines of the introduction state, "The women in this book are no timid back-seaters. They are high-flying go-getters . . . They are brave, bold dreamers and doers who fly outside the lines." And this book carries the reader along on "a bird's-eye view of their stories."

Internal images of book. Left is "Part 1" with a helicopter, purple heart, and hot air balloon. Right is hydroplane and first page of "Brooke Roman: Flying over Alaska."

Written in a wonderfully conversational voice, with touches of humor, this book draws you right into each story. It also offers fascinating supplementary sidebars - such as the note about "The Great Land" of Alaska and "Crash Survival" in Brooke Roman's biography and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" in Tammy Duckworth's biography. And includes links to follow the further careers and exploits of these amazing women on their websites and social media.

And finally, I'll leave you with the synopsis for High Flyers: 15 Inspiring Women Aviators and Astronauts -

These 15 women fly outside the lines.

Soar beside Black Hawk helicopter pilot turned politician Tammy Duckworth, hot air balloonist Edgora McEwan, or medevac pilot Dede Murawsky. Higher up, meet commercial and military aviators such as the Coast Guard’s Ronaqua Russell, the first African American female to receive the prestigious Air Medal for her rescue efforts during Hurricane Harvey.

Next, ride along with Tammie Jo Shults, whose story includes a harrowing catastrophic engine failure while in command of 148 people aboard Southwest’s Flight 1380. Others share their experiences in military high-performance jets, the Stratotanker, or while flying for the Blue Angels.

Reaching past the bounds of Earth are astronauts who have launched in the cramped Russian rocket, the Soyuz, orbited Earth while conducting critical science experiments, or lived aboard the International Space Station.

In all cases, the women in this book faced obstacles. Throughout their rise to incredible accomplishment, these courageous go-getters persevered and endured, insisting on success. Ultimately, each succeeded on her path to flight.

These diverse high-flyers are dreamers and doers who believed, despite the odds, that soaring is possible.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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