HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Avion My Uncle Flew
Author: Cyrus Fisher (Darwin L. Teilhet)
Illustrator: Richard Floethe
Publisher Puffin Books, republished 1993:
Related website(s): http://www.enotes.com/topics/darwin-l-teilhet (author)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 8-12
Rating: ***** 5 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Fisher, Cyrus. The Avion My Uncle Flew (published in 1946 by Peter Lunn, now Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014; republished in 1993 by Scholastic Inc., 730 Broadway, New York City, NY 10003). Twelve year old Johnny Littlehorn lives on a ranch in Wyoming with his father Richard, who has been away for three years as a soldier in World War II, and his mother Yvonne, who is originally from France. While helping his mother take care of the ranch in his father’s absence, Johnny’s leg is seriously injured in an accident. When the war is over, Mr. Littleton returns to announce that he has been asked to continue with the army in Europe as a liaison, so Johnny will be going to spend the summer recuperating at the little village of St. Chamant in the mountains of France with his mother’s younger brother, his eccentric uncle Paul Langres, who is trying to build an avion or non-motorized airplane to make enough money to restore the Langres estate which had been burned by the Nazis. As an added bonus, one of the specialists who would be qualified to treat Johnny’s leg is in Paris.
While the Littlehorns are in Paris, strange things begin to happen when a man whom he meets in a park near their hotel seeks to use Johnny as a tool to buy the Langres estate. Johnny is first introduced to him as Mr. Fischfasse but later learns that he also calls himself Mr. Simonis. And odd events keep occurring. While Paul and Johnny are traveling by train to the village, the boy sees the suspicious man from the park. Then at St. Chamant, Johnny (now known as Jean) finds a German soldier’s recently-abandoned back pack in the ruins of the family home containing a pistol inside. With rumors of Germans still hiding in the nearby mountains, are Paul and Johnny safe? Just who is this mysterious stranger? Exactly what does he really want? And will Oncle Paul’s avion actually fly? A Newbery Honor Book in 1947, The Avion My Uncle Flew is extremely interesting, suspenseful, and amusing, with a very funny, dry humor as Johnny actively participates in several exciting adventures.
The book is also educational. It increasingly incorporates French vocabulary words throughout which readers can learn along with Jean. The last four pages are written entirely in French. One reviewer noted, “It also will teach the young reader several hundred words of French and how to use them. In fact, this is one of the most effective examples of how to teach kids a few words of a foreign language from a novel.” By the end of the book, if the reader has paid attention, he should have enough vocabulary to read the letter that Jean writes to his mother, although some background in the language would be helpful if for no other reason than to know how to pronounce it. The author (who wrote this book under a pseudonym) was a Midwest resident like his protagonist, who spent time in France as a teen and also worked for U.S. Intelligence in Britain during the War. Later, he wrote mystery novels and spy thrillers. The bottom line is that this is a fun adventure kind of story with a touch of mystery for middle grade readers.