MERCEDES AND THE CHOCOLATE PILOT
AUTHOR: Margot Theis Raven ILLUSTRATOR: Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Was I glad to be hiding behind the ‘share screen’ option during my online library sessions. On Microsoft Teams, the children cannot see me when I share my screen, on Zoom it was a whole different matter. I had tears in my eyes, my voice was choked and I found myself getting very emotional. So did my students, even more so when they realised it was a true story. I read this aloud to five different groups of children, and the emotion didn’t ebb in any way with each successive reading.
When Josef Stalin sealed off West Berlin in 1948, hoping to force the city to join his communist ‘empire’, the Allied forces joined hands to fly in fuel and food for the besieged people. The pilots flew in tirelessly in and out over West Berlin, and for the people, the pilots of the airlift became heroes and friends.
This is the story of one little German girl, Mercedes, and how much the actions of one of those pilots Lt. Gail Halvorsen stayed with her for life. This pilot realised that food alone was not enough for the children trapped within a blockaded Berlin. He realised that he needed to list their spirits. So he made parachutes out of handkerchiefs to which he attached candy. He had asked the children he chatted with at the fence of his airforce base to watch for the wiggle of a plane’s wings. For many people candy was not a necessity, but Lt. Halvorsen believed that the children needed more than ‘neccessities’...they needed their spirits lifted.
Mercedes never forgot the Candy Bomber...saving a letter he had written to her for years and inspired to become a pilot herself. The magic unfolds when Lt. Halvorsen returns to Germany as Colonel and is invited for dinner by a young German lady named Mercedes.
This is a deeply moving read, filled with information about the Berlin airlift and the Chocolate Pilot aka the ‘Candy-Bomber’. The illustrations are beautiful and very evocative. My students were stunned by the visual of the bombed out city which still had residents in the bombed out houses.
Photo Source: Imgur Photo Source: Flickr
To the younger ones it was a story of goodies dropping from the sky, but the older children were able to feel the despair, recognise the goodness and appreciate how a kind deed is never forgotten.
From my experience, I would read this to children familiar with the World Wars...so 5th grade plus, going all the way up to high school.
(I accessed this book on GetEpic, so the picture is not very clear)