Book smart

Wright State Libraries' Special Collections and Archives creates an aviation history workbook for schoolchildren

It opens with the famous words from Orville Wright contained in a telegram to his father, Bishop M. Wright, on Dec. 17, 1903, from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina: “Success four flights Thursday morning all against a twenty-one mile wind started from level with engine power alone average speed through the air thirty one miles—longest 57 seconds. XXX home Christmas. Orville Wright.”

It is part of a workbook for schoolchildren created by the staff of Wright State University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. The Aviation Activity Book features historic photos of the Wright brothers, biographies, diary excerpts, aviation and Wright family word-search puzzles, match games and even a place to draw an airplane.

Bill Stolz, archivist for reference and outreach, said the workbook is special because it highlights many of the aviation collections — from the Wright brothers to aeronautical engineer and racing pilot Neal Loving — available at Special Collections and Archives in Dunbar Library, while also providing information on many of the aviators from the region.

“My hope is that it sparks an interest in the rich history of aviation and innovation in the Miami Valley,” said Stolz. “At the same time, the book provides students, teachers and parents with an introduction to, and availability of, primary source material available to them at Wright State. And, of course, I hope the students have fun reading and doing the activities.”

The book is part of an aviation activity kit created with funding from a $5,000 grant awarded in August 2019 by the National Aviation Heritage Area.

Stolz worked on the book with public history graduate student Alyssa Stark, who graduated in May. They also had help from recently retired archives head Dawne Dewey, who also worked on other aspects of the grant; archives and library colleagues; and several local educators.

Special Collections and Archives does a great deal of outreach at local events and area K-12 schools, sharing information on the Wright brothers and aviation history. Archives staff thought that an aviation activity kit featuring a book, postcards and exhibit material would be a great way to update and supplement the outreach program.

Bill Stolz, archivist for reference and outreach, oversaw the publication of the Aviation Activity Book by Wright State Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives.

Stolz said a lot of thought went into activities students would enjoy and also learn from at the same time.

“My wife, a school librarian, mentioned that her students love word searches and puzzles,” he said. “We created an aviation word search for the Dayton Air Show last summer and it flew off the table, as people of all ages wanted to give it a try.”

Stolz said the staff also wanted a strong representation of Miami Valley residents, past and present, who have made contributions to aviation.

“So you have everyone from Wilbur and Orville Wright to air show performers like Patty and Bob Wagner,” he said. “A great deal of time was spent researching the individuals and places as well as locating photos in our collections that would help tell the story.”

A big challenge was trying to provide as much information, photos and activities as possible in 16 pages, which was the limiting size of the workbook.

“Another challenge was the pandemic,” Stolz said. “We were finalizing the booklet just as we were all sent home. We typically talked face-to-face about the project, but everything from edits, comments to printing quotes was done by email and phone after March 16.”

A total of 2,500 copies of the workbook have been printed and it is also available in electronic format. The books will be distributed to local K-12 schools and to students visiting the Archives. The book will also be available to children and families coming to the Archives as part of the Aviation Trail, a series of historic aviation sites.

Stolz typically visits six to 10 third-grade classes annually as part of the outreach program.

“Many of the classes spend time learning about the Wright brothers,” he said, “so the book will be a nice supplement to what they learn in class and through my visits to the classroom.”

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