Jack Knight’s Brave Flight: How One Gutsy Pilot Saved the U.S. Air Mail Service

Written by Jill Esbaum, Illustrated by Stacy Innerst
Calkins Creek (2022)

When Jack Knight takes off in his biplane from North Platte, Nebraska, in 1921, hundreds of people crowd the airstrip. Is Jack transporting a famous passenger? Is he ferrying medicine for a sick child? Nope–Jack has six sacks of mail.
For the past few years, biplanes like Jack’s have been flying the mail only during daylight hours. Flying after dark is risky and crashes are too common, so lawmakers decide to cut funding for the US Air Mail Service. Outraged officials and pilots want to prove that flying the mail is best, so they concoct a plan–a coast-to-coast race.
But when a crash, exhaustion, and a snowstorm ground three of the planes, Jack Knight becomes the race’s only hope. All he has to do is fly all night long, leaning out of the plane to see, and navigate a blizzard over land he’s never covered with an empty fuel tank. Will Jack pull it off and save the Air Mail Service?

-Finalist, 2023 Crystal Kite awards, the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators

-Honoree, Children’s Nonfiction, Society of Midland Authors

-The Best Children’s Books of the Year, with Outstanding Merit, Bank Street College of Education

-The Best Children’s Literature Books of 2022: Holiday Gift Edition, Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature

-101 Great Books for Kids (2022 edition): Evanston Public Library

-Included on School Library Journal‘s Fuse #8 blog “Best of 2022” lists: Unique Biographies for Kids, American History for Kids, and Nonfiction Picture Books

-Delaware Diamonds Award Nominee, 2023-2024, Grades 3-5

Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection

★ “This fast-paced picture book outlines the landmark night flight of pilot James H. ‘Jack’ Knight (1892–1945), who helped extend the life of the U.S. Air Mail Service by serving as a relay pilot in the first overnight cross-country U.S. airmail delivery. In snappy, climactic prose, Esbaum traces the obstacles Knight encountered, including bodily discomfort and an unavoidable blizzard in Illinois. Innerst’s atmospheric illustrations conjure the rough elements and close quarters in deep blues and cool gray washes, with fluid figures, stamped text, and finely brushed details adding texture. A riveting journey about an undersung aviator. Back matter includes creators’ notes and a timeline sharing highlights in the history of the U.S. mail.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“….Esbaum retraces Knight’s night with breathtaking pacing and a touch of humor, deftly underscored by Innerst’s equally taut yet waggish mixed media artwork.” —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books 

“One hundred years ago, the mail system was in jeopardy, and in this informational picture book, Esbaum takes readers back to a pivotal night. On the evening of February 22, 1921, Jack Knight was flying precious cargo—not a celebrity or jewels, but six sacks of mail! Visceral descriptions relate Knight’s flying conditions… Innerst’s equally dramatic illustrations alternate between airport scenes on the ground in yesteryear yellows and Knight’s frigid night flying in luminous midnight blues.” Booklist

“An exciting story. The text maintains a tense, suspenseful pace, and the watercolor, ink, pencil, rubber stamp, and digital illustrations bring the journey to life… extensive back matter includes an author’s note, photos, highlights in the history of the U.S. mail, bibliography, and illustrator’s note. This historical adventure has great appeal and may renew kids’ interest in the postal service; a valuable addition to nonfiction collections.” —School Library Journal

“The jaunty storytelling and atmospheric illustrations vividly depict the challenges of flying an open cockpit plane in winter with only signal fires to guide pilots through the night and snow impeding opportunities to refuel. The broad strokes of dark watercolor and ink are just detailed enough to evoke the shapes of planes and people on a snowy night. This is a lively read.” —School Library Connection