Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” by Michael O. Tunnell is a real treat. It has everything you could want from a book: drama, roaring airplanes, human interest, history, and candy all mixed into a powerful true story.
Candy Bomber is about pilot Gail Halvorsen, who was assigned to fly food and supplies into West Berlin after World War II ended. West Berlin was under siege at the time by the Soviets. They were trying to gain control of all of Berlin by cutting off supplies to its inhabitants. The United States, Britain and France were working hard to overcome the blockade by flying in a stream of cargo planes filled with flour, potatoes, meat, and medicine, but not candy.
One day Gail Halvorsen decided to spend the day in West Berlin after flying in and out many times. At the end of the runway he met some children. Once he had talked to them, he decided to share the two pieces of gum he had in his pocket. When he saw what a rare and special treat it was to them, he realized he wanted to do more. He told the children to watch for a plane that wiggled its wings. The next day he wiggled the wings of his plane and then dropped candy in bundles tied to little parachutes.
The amazing thing is that immediately he began to receive letters and artwork from the grateful children. News of his kindness spread, and the candy drops became an official U.S. Air Force operation. Other pilots joined in and he began receiving candy donations to distribute. Even after Halvorsen moved on to another position, other pilots continued the candy drops. But the people of West Berlin would not forget his acts of kindness. Halvorsen continued to have contact with several of the children long after they had grown into adulthood.
Author Michael Tunnell has an obvious passion for his topic. He got to know Gail Halvorsen personally, because it turned out he lived in a Utah town not far away. The book is illustrated with actual photographs and letters from Halvorson’s own collection, supplied by Halvorsen himself. Not many authors get to enjoy such access to primary sources.
This was not an easy book to write because, instead of rising conflict with drama at the end, most of the intense parts of this story come at the beginning. Yet Tunnell has overcome this obstacle to write a very compelling book that will appeal to both boys and girls of a wide range of ages.
Just like a piece of chocolate, once you get your hands on it, you will want to savor it.
1. Download an activity and discussion guide at Charlesbridge
2. Today children would probably text or e-mail their thanks, but in the time this story starts the children sent Mr. Halvorsen cards, letters and drawings. Show the examples in the book and ask your children to make and send a letter, card or drawing to a special someone. Or consider exchanging letters with someone from another country.
3. Make a parachute and test it at Growing With Science
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 110 pages
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing; New edition (July 2010)
Book supplied by publisher.