Art by Randy Pollak

Fly Girl

The amazing story of the brave women pilots who helped the U.S. win World War II

By Spencer Kayden
From the March/April 2023 Issue

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.

Guided Reading Level: U
DRA Level: 50
Other Key Skills: vocabulary, fluency, key details, identifying a problem, text evidence, inference, character, plot, theme, narrative writing
UP CLOSE: Main Idea

As you read, think about how women helped the U.S. win a terrible war.


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.

Scene 1

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.

Scene 2

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.

Crowd: Woooo!

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. 

 Roger Viollet via Getty Images


Millions of young men left their homes to fight overseas in World War II. The war, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, was the biggest and deadliest in history.

Scene 3

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. 

Instructor: Easy! 

N3: Margie shakes her head. 

Instructor: Your spins stink, Canfield! You need a lot of practice, but you’ll get there.   

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


During the war, many kids collected scrap metal that could be used for building tanks, ships, and planes.

Scene 4

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! 

Crowd: Hooray!

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.

Scene 5

April 1944 ★ The Canfield House in Wichita, Kansas

Corbis via Getty Images

As men went off to fight, women filled the jobs left behind, mostly in offices and factories.

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.

The United States Air Force Museum


More than 25,000 female pilots applied to the intense WASP training program. Fewer than 2,000 were accepted, and only 1,074 made it through.

Scene 6

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. 

Alamy Stock Photo

Female pilots learning about plane engines as part of their training, around 1940

Scene 7

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

Congressional Gold Medal

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.  

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Slideshows (2)
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Activities (8)
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (1)
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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Table of Contents

1. Preparing to Read

2. Reading the Play

Close Reading, Critical Thinking

3. Skill Building and Writing

4. Differentiate and Customize

Striving Readers, Advanced Readers, Multilingual Learners

5. Can’t-Miss Teaching Extras

1. Preparing to Read

Introduce the Story (5 minutes)  

Build Knowledge, Introduce Vocabulary, and Set a Purpose for Reading


  • Build background knowledge about World War II by showing our Background Builder Slideshow. 
  • Draw students’ attention to the image on page 22. Call on a volunteer to read the Up Close box on that page. Then ask students to preview the photos on pages 24-27. Ask students to make a prediction about how women helped the U.S. win World War II based on the photos. 
  • Follow up by showing the video “Beyond the Story: American Women During WWII.
  • Distribute or digitally assign the Vocabulary Skill Builder to preview challenging words. Highlighted words: allies, bases, cockpit, skeptical, sputter, frantically, winces, determination

2. Reading the Play

  • Assign parts and read the play aloud as a class or in groups. Students can also listen to our Author Read-Aloud of the play as a first read. Note that larger speaking roles are marked with an asterisk in the characters box on page 23; the smaller roles can be a good fit for students who feel less comfortable reading aloud in class.
  • After reading, put students in small groups to discuss the close-reading questions. Then talk about the critical-thinking questions as a class. 

Close-Reading Questions


  • What setting details do you learn from the Prologue? Why are these details important? (setting) The Prologue explains that it is 1943, and World War II has been going on for the past four years. This is important because thousands of men are leaving home every week to fight overseas. As a result, millions of women step in to take over the jobs they leave behind. 
  • In Scene 1, what is Margie’s goal? Why does she want to achieve this goal? (character’s motivation) In Scene 1, Margie’s goal is to apply to the training program to fly military planes. She is impressed by the skill and bravery of female pilots. She also wants to do what she can to help the U.S. win the war. 
  • Why is Margie’s father upset in Scene 1? (key details) Margie’s father is upset when he hears that Margie wants to become a pilot. His sister, Margie’s aunt Margaret, was a pilot who died in a plane crash before Margie was born. He is worried that something bad will also happen to Margie.
  • In Scene 3, what can you tell about the way women in the program are treated? (text evidence) Based on Scene 3, women in the program are not always treated fairly. The Army didn’t order new jumpsuits to fit the women since they never expected them to be there and don’t plan to keep them around after the war. Also, male instructors make rude comments to the women. For example, an instructor tells Margie, “This plane is big, heavy, and fast. Sure you can handle it, little lady?” These details show that many in the Army considered flying planes to be a man’s job.
  • In Scene 4, why does Margie’s mom give her a photo of Aunt Margaret? How does this scene relate to Scene 1? (key details) Margie’s mom gives her the old photo of Aunt Margaret that Margie first saw in Scene 1 to keep with her when she is in the air. Her mom believes Aunt Margaret will help keep Margie safe when she is flying. Knowing the photo is with Margie will help Margie’s mom and dad feel better about her flying. 
  • What is Scene 5 mainly about? (main idea) Scene 5 is mainly about a letter that Margie has written to her parents. In it she says that two male pilots have refused to fly with her because she is a woman. Margie does not let the men stop her. She remains excited for her first assignment. 
  • What problem occurs in Scene 6? Who helps Margie? (problem and solution) In Scene 6, Margie and Nell realize an engine is out when they begin to smell smoke. The other engine soon catches fire. The women need to jump out of the burning plane, but Margie’s buckle is stuck. Nell tries to help her, but she is unsuccessful. With no other options left, Margie holds her hand against her shirt pocket, where she had placed the photo of Aunt Margaret, and asks her aunt for help. The buckle suddenly comes loose and Margie is able to escape from the plane. 
  • In Scene 7, Dad’s attitude toward Margie flying has softened. He says, “Her determination, her sense of adventure—I see those things in you.” What details from the play support the idea that Margie is determined? (text evidence) Margie shows her determination throughout the play. In Scene 3, she doesn’t let the rude comments by her instructor discourage her. In Scene 5, she says “But they can’t stop me,” when talking about the male pilots who said Margie should be at home cooking instead of flying. In Scene 7, Margie proves her determination when she says “Where’s the doctor? I need to get back up in the air,” just moments after waking up from her accident. 



Critical-Thinking Questions


  • What challenges did the WASPs face during and after the war? Do you think the WASPs received the recognition they deserved? (key details) Answers will vary. During the war, the WASPs faced gender discrimination. Many people believed that a woman’s place was at home cooking and cleaning. Many didn’t believe women should be working at all, especially not flying planes. The women faced these beliefs and comments from people both within and outside the Army. Some students might say that these brave women did not receive the recognition they deserved. Toward the end of the war, the WASP program was shut down and the female pilots were not considered an official part of the military. In fact, it would be more than 30 years before their effort was officially recognized. Others might say that they received the recognition they deserved, even though it was much later than it should have been.
  • What role did women play in helping the U.S. win World War II? (main idea) During World War II, women were not allowed to fight on the battlefield, but they were still a huge help in winning the war. Millions of women took over the jobs that men left behind while they were overseas fighting. From offices to factories, where they built planes, tanks, and other gear, women kept our country going. The WASPs were responsible for flying military planes to bases for repairs and testing new planes. The hard and brave work of women helped the U.S. win the war. 

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)!

Differentiate and Customize
For Striving Readers

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. 

For Advanced Readers

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. 

For Multilingual Learners

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). 

Can't-Miss Teaching Extras
Read More About Female Pilots

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.

Watch a Video

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.)

View a Slideshow

Understand the history of WASPs through photographs and captions with this timeline from Texas Woman’s University

Introduce an Icon

Your students can learn more about women working during the war in this Rosie the Riveter webpage from Wonderopolis