Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot

Margot Theis Raven
Illustrator:  Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Sleeping Bear Press, 2002   ISBN: 1585360694

On June 24th 1948, the leader of the then Soviet Union, Josef Stalin, sealed off West Berlin from the world, hoping to thus force the city to agree to his terms to become a part of his communist “Empire.” From June 26th 1948 until September 30th 1949 the allies, the United States, Britain, and France, flew in tons and tons of food and fuel for the besieged people. The pilots risked their lives and suffered a great deal as they flew in and out again and again. The people of Berlin would never have survived this time if it hadn’t been for the airlift, and for many the pilots who made those dangerous flights became heroes and friends.

This is the story of one of the children of Berlin who was profoundly affected by the actions of one particular pilot. This pilot recognized that food alone was not enough for the children trapped within the confines of Berlin. They also needed that all too important panacea of the young and the not-so-young: candy. Of course many people thought that candy was a luxury that the pilots should not be wasting their time on, but Lt. Gail Halvorsen thought differently. Not only did the candy give the children pleasure because it tasted good, but it also was symbol of the affection and sympathy that the pilot had for the children of Berlin. It made them feel special and less forgotten by the outside world.

Mercedes Simon was one of these Berlin children who felt forgotten, lonely, and deeply distressed by the events of the war. Her father had never come home and she and her mother had a hard time of it now. Mercedes’ mother told her about Lt. Halvorsen and how he had come to be called the American Chocolate Pilot. Mercedes wanted so badly to be one of the children who received his candy but when she went to the air force base and tried to catch one of the candy packets that were thrown out of the plane, Mercedes was pushed aside by a larger child. So, she wrote to the Chocolate Pilot asking him to drop some candy in her yard as he flew over. Hers was garden with “the white chickens” and she thought he would be able to find it.

As it happened Lt. Halvorsen was not able to find Mercedes’ garden, but he still sent her candy and with it a letter. The letter became one of Mercedes’ prized possessions and it was what she had in hand when, many years later, she had the opportunity to meet, and thank, The Chocolate Pilot in person.

Deeply moving, and beautifully written, the author has incorporated an enormous amount of information about Berlin Airlift and the people it affected. Illustrated with simple yet forceful pastel illustrations which capture the importance of the Chocolate Pilot in Mercedes’ life, this book is very special and a fitting recognition and appreciation for the Chocolate Pilot and all those who helped him make “Operation Little Vittels” a great success.

More information about the Chocolate Pilot can be found at: www.konnections.com/airlift/candy.htm


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