Josephine Blackstock (died 1956) was from Oak Park, Chicago, Illinois, where she made her name before and after the second world war in education, being director of parks and playgrounds 1921-1951. She therefore was interested in how children learn from experience. American first editions are by Puttnams, Wings for Nikias with a foreword by Cimon Diamantopoulos, Minister of Greece and reissued after the war as a school text by EM Hale & Company of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Both were issued in Britain by Hutchinsons, with Busoni's graphic illustrations in Island on the Beam replaced with tamer and more Anglicised pictures by R. Mills. Illustrations below are by Busoni. Blackstock wrote other educational texts after the war, mainly about famous lives. An extract from Nikias can be found in Youth replies, I can: stories of resistance, edited by May Lamberton Becker, Foreword by Elizabeth Morrow, illustrations by Warren Chappell (http://blacklight.betech.virginia.edu/catalog/u1302828).
Wings for Nikias: A Story of the Greece of Today, 1942
This is her first war book (written 1940, drawings by Rafaello Busoni with vivid lines, dedicated to Percy Boynton, = Percy Holmes Boynton, Prof. of English at Chicago University , died 1956). The story tells of a very small Greek boy who worked for the resistance against the Nazi invader and was rewarded by an aeroplane trip, which furthered his dreams of becoming a pilot. The dedication suggests that she told the story before deciding to publish, so that Nikias might be based on a real person. The UK version was by Hutchinson, retaining Busoni’s illustrations.
Nikias is 10. He is friends with a shepherd who tells him stories of ancient Greek tales, interesting as a device because the shepherd, Demetrios is able yet poor, living in a home-made tent, though with plans for marriage and something more permanent. The tale of Perseus results in Nikias dressing up with winged shoes in a carnival, Demetrios making him a toy plane, and then seeing a real plane go over, a rare sight there. In the background, war threatens.
The war erupts. An invading army takes over, and Demetrios joins the resistance army. Even the youngsters have to be alert. Nikias meets the invaders and realises that thie questions might give away Demetrios’s position. So he lies, and rushes to find the resistance forces and warn them. His prompt action results in a stirring victory for the resitance over the invaders. As a reward, he gets his flight in an aeroplane.
Review by The Chicago Tribune, of Wings for Nikias, cover flap of Island on the Beam::
"This charming story can hardly fail to accomplish three services for boy and girl readers: encourage bravery, heighten an already lively interest in aviation, and restore the shining traditions of ancient Greece. Mrs Blackstock's intimate knowledge of children - she is the director of playgrounds in Oak Park, Illinois - does not find its sole vent in practical psychology. She is a versitile writer, a born storyteller and a teacher of great skill..."
Island on the Beam: A Story of Malta. 1944.
The book ends problematically. Historically, the biplane Gloster Gladiators, probably six or more, including Faith, Hope and Charity, saved the day against extraordinary odds until the hurricanes were delivered by the convoys. That was a real David and Goliath story. However, in this book, there are Hurricanes and Wellingtons available, yet David chose to fly in an elderly Gladiator, a fighter not a bomber, to bomb the Italian post and airfield that was threatening Malta. That was crazy, when (apparently) a Wellington was already fuelled and bombed up. He gets shot down in the sea, saved only by his inflatable jacket and Pietru miraculously finds him. Tension is created at the expense of realism. The given top-speed is accurate though, 250 mph or so. The danger finally receded as Rommel was defeated in Africa and the allies won back control of the Mediterranean. Actually, Spitfire Vs, Beaufighters and Blenheims were stationed on the island, some from the Carrier HMS Eagle.
As a postscript, HMSO produced a booklet on the Siege of Malta as part of its effort to keep the population informed about the war. I have described this elsewhere since, although anonymous in authorship, it was actually written by the poet John Pudney who was a writer in residence serving in the Mediterranean theatre. This account of the struggle against inhuman political policies is an example for us all to continue the struggle to achieve ethical governance.
The story of Rafaello Busoni and his wife Hannah, Jewish refugees from Germany to New York in 1939 - http://www.archive.org/details/hannahbusoni2
Alan Machin's personal story: