*Narrators 1, 2, and 3 (N1, N2, N3)
*Margie Canfield, a 19-year-old female pilot
*Dad and *Mom, Margie’s parents
Jackie Cochran, a famous female pilot, head of the WASPs
The amazing story of the brave women pilots who helped the U.S. win World War II
Learning Objectives: Students will identify the main idea in a historical fiction play that reveals the key roles women played in World War II and society’s attitudes toward them.
N1: It’s 1943. For four years, World War II has been raging across Europe and the Pacific Ocean.
N2: Americans and their allies are battling against Germany, Italy, and Japan.
N3: Each week, thousands of young men are leaving their homes—and their jobs—to fight overseas.
N1: Women aren’t allowed to fight on the battlefield.
N2: So millions of them step in to take the jobs left behind by men.
N3: They work in offices and factories.
N1: They build planes, tanks, and other gear.
N2: More than 1,000 women become Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs.
N3: The WASPs fly military planes to bases for repairs. They test new planes before men fly them off to battle.
N1: And one 19-year-old from Kansas dreams of joining these brave women.
July 1943 ★ The Canfield House in Wichita, Kansas
N2: Dad is reading the newspaper in the kitchen, where Mom is preparing dinner.
N3: Margie runs in holding a news magazine.
Margie Canfield: Mom! Dad! Girls are flying military planes!
N1: Dad turns pale.
Margie: It says here these women “fly with skill and bravery.”
N2: Margie looks up with bright eyes.
Margie: I want to apply to the training program!
Dad: Absolutely not.
N3: He walks out.
Margie: What was that about?
N1: Mom takes a photo album from a shelf.
N2: She pulls out an old photograph of a young woman smiling next to an airplane.
Margie: Who is this?
Mom: Your father’s sister.
Margie: Aunt Margaret? The one I’m named after?
Mom: That’s right. Flying was her passion.
Margie: I . . . I had no idea.
Mom: She died in a plane crash just before you were born. Your father doesn’t like to talk about it.
N3: Margie looks closely at the photograph.
Margie: She looks so happy.
Mom: Margaret had that dazzling Canfield smile, just like your father. And you.
N1: Margie lifts her chin.
Margie: Mom, I want to do what I can to help our country win the war.
Mom: Don’t you need a pilot’s license?
Margie: I can take lessons at the airport. I’ll get my license in no time. Please, Mom. I can do this.
N2: Mom smiles, but there’s worry in her eyes.
September 1943 ★ Sweetwater, Texas
N3: Margie stands in the hot sun with 100 other young women. The air is full of dust and sand.
Jackie Cochran: You are all here because you want to be WASPs. This six-month training program is challenging. Now, there are men out there who think you can’t do it. Well, I’m here to tell you that if you work hard, you can.
N1: Margie leans over to a woman next to her.
Margie: How long have you been flying?
Nell: Six years. I’m an instructor in Michigan. You?
Margie (nervously): I just got my license.
Nell: Stick with me. You’ll be all right.
January 1944 ★ Sweetwater, Texas
N2: Margie and the other trainees are wearing oversized jumpsuits.
Margie: Are we ever going to get flight suits that fit us?
Betty: Not likely. The Army never expected women to be flying their planes.
N3: A male instructor approaches.
Instructor: Canfield! You’re with me today. We’re going up in the BT-13. This plane is big, heavy, and fast. Sure you can handle it, little lady?
N1: Margie clenches her jaw.
Margie (quietly): Yes, this little lady can handle it.
Betty (whispering): Don’t listen to him, Margie! Just stay focused on flying.
N2: When Margie and the instructor reach the plane, Margie hops into the front seat. The instructor sits behind her in the cockpit.
N3: The plane rumbles to life.
N1: It speeds up and climbs into the air.
Instructor: Now show me some spins.
N2: The plane jerks to the side.
N3: Margie shakes her head.
Instructor: Your spins stink, Canfield! You need a lot of practice, but you’ll get there.
March 1944 ★ Sweetwater, Texas
N1: Margie and the other pilots gather for graduation.
N2: General Arnold addresses the graduates and their families.
General Arnold: At first, I was skeptical. Could a young woman handle a fighter plane? But now I know the answer is yes.
Crowd: Hear! Hear!
Arnold: The WASPs are helping us win the war. We are proud of you, and the Army Air Forces welcomes you!
N3: Margie finds her mother in the crowd. As they hug, Margie looks over Mom’s shoulder.
Margie: Dad didn’t come?
Mom: He just . . . couldn’t, honey.
N1: Mom pulls the old photograph of Aunt Margaret from her purse.
Mom: Here. Keep this with you. It will make me feel better knowing she’s with you in the air. And Dad too, I think.
N2: Margie puts the photo into her shirt pocket.
Margie: She’ll keep me safe.
April 1944 ★ The Canfield House in Wichita, Kansas
Corbis via Getty Images
N3: Mom sits on the porch reading aloud a letter from Margie.
N1: Dad stands behind her, listening.
Mom (reading): Dear Mom and Dad, Nell and I were both assigned to Love Field in Dallas, Texas. Yesterday, two male pilots refused to ride with me. They said they would not put their lives in the hands of someone who should be at home cooking.
N2: Dad shakes his head and sits down next to Mom.
Mom (reading): But they can’t stop me. Tomorrow is my first assignment. I’m picking up a plane from the factory and flying it to a base so it can go overseas. I can’t tell you where. It’s top secret!
N3: Dad puts his arm around Mom and smiles.
Dad: She reminds me of her, you know.
Mom: I know she does.
Dad: But I’m worried the same thing that happened to my sister will happen to our Margie. Did you hear there was another accident at Camp Davis?
Mom: What happened?
Dad: A problem with the plane caused it to flip when it was landing. The pilot was crushed.
N1: Mom squeezes Dad’s arm.
Mom: Margie will be OK. She has Margaret to protect her.
July 1944 ★ The Skies Over New Mexico
N2: Margie and Nell are flying a large plane.
N3: Margie shouts over the roar of the engines.
Margie: What time do you think we’ll reach Dallas?
N1: Nell looks at the plane’s instruments and checks her map.
Nell: We’ll probably be there before sunset.
Margie (suddenly alarmed): Do you smell smoke?
N2: Nell’s eyes dart around the plane.
Nell: I see sparks. An engine is out!
N3: The other engine starts to sputter. One of the wings dips.
Nell: The other engine is on fire! We have to get out now, or there won’t be time for our parachutes to open!
N1: Margie struggles with her seat belt.
Margie: I’m stuck!
N2: Smoke begins to fill the cockpit.
N3: Nell tries to help Margie with her buckle.
Margie: You go. Don’t wait for me!
Nell: I can’t leave you!
Margie: There’s no sense in both of us dying! Go, Nell! Go now!
N1: Nell jumps out of the burning cockpit.
N2: Margie is alone, coughing in the thick smoke. She tugs frantically at her seat belt.
N3: Margie squeezes her eyes shut.
Margie: Please, help me, Aunt Margaret.
N1: She presses her hands against her shirt pocket. Suddenly, the buckle comes loose.
N2: Margie jumps out of the burning plane.
The Next Day ★ Carlsbad, New Mexico
N3: Margie lies in an Army hospital.
N1: She opens her eyes and sees her mother and father.
Margie (tired): Where am I?
Mom: New Mexico.
Margie: How did you get here?
Dad: We drove all night.
Margie: Nell! Where’s Nell?
N2: Margie tries to sit up and winces. She notices a bandage around her arm.
Mom: Nell is OK. Worried about you, though.
Margie: What about the plane?
Dad: It crashed into a field.
Mom: Scared some cows, but nobody was hurt.
N3: Tears well up in Dad’s eyes.
Dad: You’re lucky to be alive.
Margie: I’m sorry to put you through this, Dad.
Dad: Oh, Margie, you have nothing to be sorry about. You just remind me so much of your Aunt Margaret. Her determination, her sense of adventure—I see those things in you.
N1: Margie beams.
Mom: And that Canfield smile.
N2: Dad brushes Margie’s hair out of her eyes.
Dad: Promise me that you’ll follow your dreams as fiercely as she did.
Margie: I promise, Dad. Now . . . where’s the doctor? I need to get back up in the air.
National Air & Space Museum/Smithsonian Institution
N3: The next year, in 1945, the war finally came to an end.
N1: America and its allies had won, thanks in part to the work of the WASPs.
N2: Toward the end of the war, the WASP program was shut down. The women pilots were not considered an official part of the military.
N3: It would be more than 30 years before their effort was officially recognized.
N1: In 2010, about 200 WASPs gathered in Washington, D.C.
N2: The women were now in their 80s and 90s.
N3: In a joyful ceremony, they were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest honor given by the U.S. Congress.
Write to Win
Write a letter to Margie, thanking her for what she did during World War II and mentioning the challenges she faced. Use details from the play. Send it to “Fly Girl Contest” by May 1, 2023. Five winners will each receive a $20 gift card for the Scholastic Store Online. Visit the Storyworks Contests page for more information.
This play was originally published in the March/April 2023 issue.
Table of Contents
Close Reading, Critical Thinking
4. Differentiate and Customize
Striving Readers, Advanced Readers, Multilingual Learners
1. Preparing to Read
Introduce the Story (5 minutes)
Build Knowledge, Introduce Vocabulary, and Set a Purpose for Reading
2. Reading the Play
3. Skill Building and Writing
Featured Skill: Main Idea
Distribute or assign the Main Idea Skill Builder. Have students complete it independently or together with a partner. This skill builder will help prepare students to respond to the writing prompt on page 27. Then you can send their work to our writing contest (see page 2 of the magazine for details)!
To help students understand the main idea of the play, work with students in small groups to identify the main idea of each scene. As you finish reading each scene together, have students jot down the main idea of the scene on a sticky note. For the Prologue, model creating a main idea statement. For example, for the main idea of the Prologue you may write, “Women played an important role in helping the U.S. and its allies win World War II.” For Scene 1, ask guiding questions to help students in coming up with the main-idea sentence. Once you have the sticky notes for each scene, line them up to help students grasp the main idea of the entire play.
Ask students to imagine the ceremony in 2010 where the WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Have them write an acceptance speech that Margie would give. The speech should include details from the play that mention the work the WASPs did, the challenges they faced, and their feelings about the experience.
To make sure students have enough knowledge about World War II and the roles women played in it, be sure to review the Background Builder Slideshow on the war and the video “Beyond the Story: American Women During WWII.” Also, as you read the play together, you may want to pause at Scene 6 to identify key plot elements. Have students circle and label the main problem that occurs in the scene (the plane catches on fire and Margie and Nell must escape, but Margie’s seatbelt is stuck). Then have students circle how the problem is resolved (Margie asks her aunt Margaret to help her, and her seatbelt suddenly becomes loose).
This beautifully illustrated book Skyward: The Story of Female Pilots in WWII follows three young girls in America, England, and Russia who share the dream of becoming pilots. Although the characters are fictional, the author based their stories on real events.
This clip from CBS News features several female pilots who served during WWII and highlights the recognition they finally received for their contributions during the war. (Note: The video starts with a short ad.)
Understand the history of WASPs through photographs and captions with this timeline from Texas Woman’s University.
Your students can learn more about women working during the war in this Rosie the Riveter webpage from Wonderopolis.