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On The Wings of Heroes

On The Wings of Heroes

4.4 7
by Richard Peck

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Davy Bowman’s brother and their dad hung the moon. Dad looks forward to Halloween more than a kid, and Davy’s brother, Bill, flies B-17s. Davy adores these two heroes and tries his best to follow their lead, especially now.

World War II has invaded Davy’s homefront boyhood. There’s an air raid drill in the classroom, and being a kid is an


Davy Bowman’s brother and their dad hung the moon. Dad looks forward to Halloween more than a kid, and Davy’s brother, Bill, flies B-17s. Davy adores these two heroes and tries his best to follow their lead, especially now.

World War II has invaded Davy’s homefront boyhood. There’s an air raid drill in the classroom, and being a kid is an endless scrap drive. Bill has joined up, breaking their dad’s heart. It’s an intense, confusing time, and one that will invite Davy to grow up in a hurry.

Still, Richard Peck is a master of comedy, and even in this novel of wartime uncertainty, he infuses his tale with humor: oddballs and rascals and boyhood misadventures alongside the poignant moments. This is one of Richard Peck’s very finest novels—a tender, unforgettable portrait of the World War II homefront and a family’s love.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Poignant." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Pecks skill at characterization is unsurpassed.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“No one does nostalgia better than Peck, and this episodic story of a boy’s life on the home front just before and during World War II is a charmer.”—Booklist

His big brother Bill is off at war, flying B-17s, but young Davy Bowman is tending the home front. When not weighted down by school chores, this little midwesterner is busy searching for scrap metal for the war effort. Richard Peck's heartwarming World War II story places a global conflict in human perspective.
Elizabeth Ward
Plot isn't the point here so much as mood: summer evening light slanting through a kitchen window, porch lights coming on after a blackout like "buzzing fishbowls in yellow halos," "the whole world…golden with forsythia in bloom"… Peck's disciplined sentences are like little shots of poetry with a kicker of anxiety or, more often, comedy to keep sentimentality in check.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Peck (A Year Down Yonder) concocts another delicious mixture of humor, warmth and local color in this period piece, which describes America during WWII through the eyes of a Midwestern boy, Davy Bowman. The 1940s are a time of sacrifice for the Bowman family and a time of collecting for young Davy, who does his patriotic duty by gathering "whatever it took to win the war." Davy's search for scrap metal ("Five thousand tin cans will make a shell casing," his friend muses") leads him to mysterious Mr. Stonecypher, who lives in the oldest house in the neighborhood and who lost a son in another war. While hunting for milkweed ("for stuffing in life jackets, to keep shipwrecked sailors afloat"), Davy has his first run-in with old Miss Titus, a cantankerous woman, who ends up taking charge of his class during the teacher shortage ("We weren't used to a teacher who looked like a walnut with a mustache"). Throughout the novel, the author adroitly conveys how Davy's boundaries and horizons gradually expand, first beyond his neighborhood and finally overseas, when his brother is sent to Europe. First-person narrative brings the time period to life and vividly captures Davy's sentiments about the war and his family members, especially his father and brother, who are both heroes in Davy's mind. Chock full of eccentric characters and poignant moments, this coming-of-age novel will be embraced by children and grownups alike. Ages 10-up. Agent: Sheldon Fogelman. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Sheryl O'Sullivan
Newbery Award winning author Richard Peck begins his new historical fiction book with the words, "Before the war the evenings lingered longer, and it was always summer when it was not Halloween or Christmas." This line sets the stage for a coming of age story of Davy Bowman who is growing up during World War II and watching his older brother go off to war. Peck manages to make this book funny, gripping, and thoughtful all at the same time. In addition, since Davy's brother is serving in World War II, Davy's father was injured in World War I, and one of his elderly acquaintances can remember the Civil War, this novel offers a provocative commentary on the meaning of war in general. Peck's signature quirky-but-wise older characters help Davy make sense of a chaotic time and grow toward maturity. The author uses actual war slogans of the time, a realistic small town Illinois settings, and believable dialog to make a by-gone era come alive and have poignant relevance for young readers of today. This is a wonderful book for pure enjoyment, and could also be useful in social studies classrooms studying United States history.
VOYA - Lucy Freeman
On the Wings of Heroes is a short novel, and Peck packs a whole lot into it. Readers will be laughing one paragraph and tearing up the next, but Peck's masterful language does not make the story "jump around" with its emotions. Despite the World War II setting, readers can connect to the events and emotions of many characters. Although the characters suffer from a bit of flatness, the story will delight many readers.
VOYA - Geri DiOrio
Davy Bowman's life in 1941 is as comfortable and happy as can be. His two heroes are his father, a fun-loving and kind World War I veteran, and his older brother Bill, soon to be a B-17 pilot. When Pearl Harbor is bombed, Davy's world changes but not dramatically. This story is Peck at his gentlest. Davy's world now includes victory gardens, rubber and paper drives, hunts for scrap metal, new teachers, and opportunistic boy scouts (who grab paper right out from under the cub scouts who have gathered it). Davy knows that the war means that his brother might not come home. There is alarm near the end of the story, but this mild-mannered tale offers no real scares, just a touching view of the home front through the eyes of a young boy. Peck is a master. His language is lovely, his story has great depth, and his humor is always apparent, even in a wartime novel. This book made this reviewer laugh out loud and get misty-eyed all in one sitting. Adults who may have been Davy might love this reminiscence, and grade school history teachers could certainly use it as read-aloud for class. But the story is so slow and safe and contains so many contextual references to the 1940s that one might wonder who the audience really is. Give it to the wisest of readers-the ones who are old enough to know some World War II history and who are not put off by a young protagonist.
Kirkus Reviews
It always seemed to be summer in Davy Bowman's Illinois town; his street was his world. In epic games of hide-and-seek, Davy would ride toward home base on brother Bill's shoulders or in the crook of his father's good arm. And every Halloween, Earl Bowman, in Grandma Dowdel-like fashion, exacted revenge on neighborhood bullies. Early episodes give way to rich stories-poignant and humorous-about the weight of war as it wrapped around the shoulders of the Bowmans. It was "the duration," not really real life, just waiting for Bill to return from his B-17 missions over Germany. In the meantime, Davy and his friend Scooter gather scrap metal, newspapers and milkweed for the war effort, the Chicago mob attacks Mr. Bowman and ancient Eulalia Titus teaches Davy's class with a firm hand (and strategically placed rattraps). Peck's skill at characterization is unsurpassed; Earl Bowman is as memorable as any previous character. Scenes are so well crafted they beg to be read aloud. An ode to a father, a big brother and an era captured by a writer at his peak. (Fiction. 10+)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.50(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Only Fifteen Shopping Days...

...were left till that Christmas of 1941. Crowds bustled. Shelves cleared. The window of the Curio Shop on East Prairie Avenue was heaped high with broken dishes, torn fans, ripped up paper lanterns. They'd wrecked all their Made-in-Japan merchandise and made a display of it that drew a crowd.

Scooter and I looked, but it was something in the window of Black's Hardware that pulled us back every Saturday, to see if it was still there.

A Schwinn bicycle stood in the window. A solitary Schwinn, casual on its kickstand, sharp as a knife. Two-toned cream and crimson with a headlight like a tiny torpedo. An artificial squirrel tail dyed red, white, and blue hung off the back fender under the reflector. I couldn't look at the thing without tearing up. You could have played those chrome spokes like a harp. And look at the tread on those tires.

It was the last Schwinn in town, and maybe the whole country, for the duration. The duration was the new wartime word, and you heard it all day long, like the song "Remember Pearl Harbor," on the radio, over and over. The duration meant for however long the war would last.

I'd been wanting a two-wheeler for a year and thought I could handle that Schwinn, though it was full-sized and weighed thirty pounds. I thought I was long enough in the leg and had the arms for it, almost. Never mind that I didn't know how to ride a bike.

I didn't expect to get it for Christmas, and didn't. It was twice what bikes cost, and the last one on earth. Scooter and I checked on that Schwinn faithfully, knowing that one Saturday it wouldn't be there.

I pictured the kid who'd get it, some rich kid from up on Moreland Heights. I saw him in new Boy Scout shoes and salt-and-pepper knickers and a chin-strap helmet with goggles, swooping down a curving road with that patriotic squirrel tail standing out behind. I saw the easy arcs he made from ditch to ditch. He'd be a little older than we were, a year or tow older.

We didn't know what to expect out of Christmas this year. Scooter usually did pretty well for presents. He already had his Chem-Craft chemistry set. We'd had our first fire with it, burning a circle out of the insulation on the Tomlinsons' basement ceiling.

The stink bomb we'd built to go under Old Lady Graves's back step had gone off too soon, in Scooter's arms. I threw up the minute I smelled him, and his mom made him strip naked in their yard. She hosed him down and burned his shirt in a leaf drum. But that was last summer after his birthday.

One December Saturday when we checked, Black's window was empty, and the Schwinn was gone.

Dad brought home a tree standing up out of the Packard's rumble seat. People said there'd be no trees next Christmas and no string of lights when these burned out. Mom baked all Bill's favorites. Dad rolled out peanut brittle on a marble dresser top. People said that next year there wouldn't be enough sugar for Christmas baking.

But this one still smelled like the real thing: pine needles and nutmeg, Vicks and something just coming out of the oven in a long pan. And Bill was home. "That's Christmas enough for me," Mom murmured.

We untangled the string of tree lights, Bill and I, stretching them through the house. He could stick the star on top without stretching. But then he and Dad had hung the moon.

Bill was home from St. Louis with a full-length topcoat and his aeronautics textbooks. Bill wanted to fly, and he was taxiing for takeoff already.

He and Dad were down in the basement on Christmas Eve, puttering on mysterious business while Mom kept me busy. When Bill came upstairs, wiping grease off his hands, the kitchen radio was playing "Stardust." Bill swept Mom away from the sink, and they danced, turning around, the kitchen like it was the Alhambra Ballroom and Mom was his date. Her forehead was shiny, and her eyes were shining. She still held a dish towel that hung down from his shoulder. They danced until the radio began to play "Remember Pearl Harbor," and Mom switched it off.

Bill slept in the big from room upstairs. Dad had divided the attic in two and boxed in the rooms under the eaves. I had the little one at the back. We didn't get a lot of heat up here. On nights this cold I wore mittens and a cap to bed.

You could talk between the rooms. The wall was beaverboard, and we left the door open. From his bed, Bill said, "Davy? You remember to hang up your stocking?"

No answer from me. I was too old to hang up a stocking, as we both knew. "What did you get me?" Bill inquired because it was a known fact that I couldn't keep a secret.

"A pen wiper," I said. "Pen wipers for everybody. We made them in school."

"Miss Mossman?" Bill said, naming my teacher. He'd had her. "A pen wiper's good," he said. "I'll keep it on my desk and take it with me. Wherever."

Silence then. Silent night.

"What did you get me?" I asked, and my breath puffed a cloud. I hoped for his high school letter sweater, Cardinal Red. He'd lettered in track. I'd go in his closet and try it on a lot. It hit me just above the ankle.

"You get anything for me?" I asked in the dark because he was drifting off.

"Socks," he mumbled, "underwear."

"Oh," I said. I turned over once, and it was morning.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Poignant." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Pecks skill at characterization is unsurpassed.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“No one does nostalgia better than Peck, and this episodic story of a boy’s life on the home front just before and during World War II is a charmer.”—Booklist

Meet the Author

Richard Peck has written more than thirty novels, and in the process has become one of the country’s most highly respected writers for children. In fact The Washington Post called him “America’s best living author for young adults.” A versatile writer, he is beloved by middle-graders as well as young adults for his historical and contemporary comedies and coming-of-age novels. He lives in New York City, and spends a great deal of time traveling around the country to speaking engagements at conferences, schools, and libraries.

Mr. Peck is the first children’s book author to have received a National Humanities Medal. He is a Newbery Medal winner (for A Year Down Yonder), a Newbery Honor winner (for A Long Way from Chicago), a two-time National Book Award finalist, and a two-time Edgar Award winner. In addition, he has won a number of major honors for the body of his work, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the ALAN Award, and the Medallion from the University of Southern Mississippi.

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On the Wings of Heroes 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
CaraPutman More than 1 year ago
I love the way the story illustrates you can be a hero by donning the uniform or by living like one every day. This family was one that we loved to come back to the pages and read more about. My seven year old son loved it, and my ten year old daughter kept asking to read just one more chapter. Each chapter represented an experience Davy had that propelled him from childhood to becoming a young man. And the recapturing of the time and history was perfect. I loved it! This was our first try with one of Richard Peck's book and was a delightful start.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pretty good book. It was required summer reading but my child enjoyed it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To be honest, I don't much get into war-time books, and I almost just shelved this one. I love his other books, though, so out of loyalty I brought it home. He sucks you in with the first few, short chapters, which can stand as their own short stories - then by the time they get longer, you're so drawn in you don't realize it. As always his characters are well-drawn and memorable, and you close the cover with a satisfied sigh.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was transformed back in time as I read 'On the Wings a Heroes', feeling through the well-formed characters what it was like to live during World War II. Richard Peck delivers a touching story complete with oddballs and quirky characters. A real winner!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was a good book overall(:
Anonymous More than 1 year ago