New picture book about the ABCs of aviation aims to inspire little girls and boys to fly

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail's new book Alis the Aviator was launched last week in Edmonton.

Main character honours one of Canada's first Indigenous female commercial pilots

Author Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail's son Andre holds a copy of her new book, Alis the Aviator. (Submitted by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail)

Five years ago, author and aviation enthusiast Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail was looking for a book to read to her two-year-old son Andre when she discovered a gap in the children's book market. 

"I realized that there weren't a lot of aviation ABC books on the market for kids that were wiggly and squirmy and spirited like he was," Metcalfe-Chenail said in an interview on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Tuesday.

Metcalfe-Chenail, now based in Houston, Tex., is the former president of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society and a former historian laureate for the City of Edmonton. 

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail is the author of new children's book Alis the Aviator. (ncf.ca)

She is the author of two popular aviation histories for adults, Polar Winds: A Century of Flying the North and For the Love of Flying.

Her new book, Alis the Aviator, launched last week in Edmonton, is her first picture book. It takes children through the ABCs of aviation. 

"It was such a great way to highlight some of the cool names of airplanes," Metcalfe-Chenail said, highlighting Canadian airplane names in particular. "We have cool names like the Avro Arrow, the Beaver and the Chipmunk."

Indigenous female pilot

Alis B. Kennedy, likely one of the first Indigenous women to obtain a commercial pilot's licence in Canada. (Submitted by Alis B. Kennedy)

The title character and guide to the book, Alis, was inspired by Alis B. Kennedy, likely one of the first Indigenous women to obtain a commercial pilot's licence in Canada.

"I thought she would be a great person to inspire little boys and girls to enter aviation," Metcalfe-Chenail said.

Back in the 1970s when Kennedy received her commercial pilot's licence, the accompanying letter read, "Dear Sir," the Ontario-based Métis woman told CBC. 

Reached at her home in Woodbridge, Ont., Kennedy said she felt honoured to be chosen as the inspiration for the children's book. 

"To have a book with me as an inspiration is a great, humbling honour," Kennedy said. 

She hopes to encourage girls and women to believe that it's possible to succeed in a "man's world," Kennedy said. 

"And for the boys and men to understand that we also have dreams and to accept that we can all be in the same world," she added. 

Women under-represented 

Despite having a son, it was important to Metcalfe-Chenail to have a female protagonist in the book, she said. 

"Women in aviation has been one of my passions for a long time and unfortunately they are under-represented in aviation," she said, estimating only six or seven per cent of airline pilots in Canada are women. "So even though I have a son, I wanted him to be reading books that featured women as well."

Alis the Aviator can be ordered through bookstores and is also in stock at Audreys Books in Edmonton. 

The cover illustration of new children's book Alis the Aviator. (Submitted by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail)


Thandiwe Konguavi


Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is a reporter/editor at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca. Follow her on Twitter @cbcthandiwe.

With files from Julia Lipscombe


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?