Posted by: Kathy Temean | October 18, 2018

Book Giveaway: AIM FOR THE SKIES by Aimee Bissonette – illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

Author Aimee Bissonette has new book titled, AIM FOR THE SKIES. Doris Ettlinger illustrated the book for Sleeping Bear Press. It hit bookshelves last week. Aimee has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Aimee!


When she was seven years old, Geraldine (Jerrie) Mock took her first airplane ride. She decided then and there to be a pilot. Growing up, she was inspired by radio broadcasts detailing the travels of aviatrix Amelia Earhart. Joan Merriam was 15 when she took her first plane ride in 1952. She got her pilot’s license before she could even drive a car. And like Jerrie, Joan too was inspired by Earhart and wanted to circle the globe, following Earhart’s exact route. Years later, when both women begin to plan their dream flights, they are completely unaware of each other, and coincidentally pick the same time to depart. But when the media gets word of their plans, the stage is set for the race of a lifetime. This picture book retells the extraordinary story of the 1964 air race between Americans Geraldine Mock and Joan Merriam Smith, the first two women to fly around the world.


As a nonfiction writer, I am always on the hunt for story ideas, which means I do a lot of reading.  I read regional newspapers looking for stories that have not broken nationally. I read specialized publications for people with specific interests (like dog magazines and travel magazines). I read about current and historical events, other countries, music, books, food, culture, and traditions.  Invariably, I come across something that piques my interest and makes me want to learn more.

That’s just what happened with “Aim for the Skies.”  I started working on the story after reading Jerrie Mock’s obituary in an Ohio newspaper.  The obituary identified Jerrie as the first woman to fly solo around the world. I was shocked. How had I not heard of this woman? Everyone knows Amelia Earhart, the first woman who tried to fly around the world, right? But no one, including me, seemed to know who the first woman was to successfully do so – and it happened in my lifetime.  Imagine my surprise when my research then led me to Joan Merriam Smith – a second pilot – and I uncovered news of the unexpected race that ensued when Jerrie and Joan took off within days of each other. What a story!

Jerri Mock

Researching for me is a guilty pleasure.  It takes time. I always end up with much more information than can ever fit in a children’s book. In this case, I wanted to know all I could about Jerrie and Joan, their families, their planes, their routes.  Jerrie and my mom were contemporaries, which struck a personal chord (something that always appeals to me).  I also had an Amelia Earhart connection. I was an exchange student in high school on the island of Saipan.  Locals there believe Amelia Earhart was captured and brought to Saipan by the Japanese eighty years ago. No one knows for sure, of course, but Amelia’s story had always intrigued me as a result.

Researching this book was a blast: personal accounts, newspaper clippings, photos, telegrams – all those things were available and more. Jerrie and Joan’s air race was covered pretty extensively by the media during the weeks they were flying. Unfortunately, their accomplishments were quickly buried by other news of the day: the Space Race, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War, which explains why so few people know about them.

Joan Merriam

I felt from the start that Jerrie and Joan were unsung heroes whose story needed to be told. Lucky for me, my editor agreed. She and I share a passion for stories about strong women in history. We had worked together previously on another book, “Miss Colfax’s Light,” and this one seemed like her cup of tea, too.  Not only did she say “yes,” but she brought Doris on to illustrate the book, which made the story ten times better. The art is incredible.

I hope the story inspires young readers as much as researching it inspired me.  Follow your dreams – the sky is the limit!


Author Aimée Bissonette was born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, the sixth of seven children. Aimée earned her Bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and her Law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. She has worked as an occupational therapist, teacher, lawyer, and small business owner. She is the author of Miss Colfax’s Light. Learn more at her website:

In addition to her books for children, Aimée has published a book for K-12 teachers and administrators on the legal issues associated with technology in the schools. She lives with her husband, family, and dogs in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


I never know what sort of project Sleeping Bear Press will offer me. My previous book, The Legend of Sea Glass by Trinka Hakes Noble involved mermaids. Now I’d be working on a biography that involved flying airplanes, something I knew nothing about except to buckle my seat belt. Joan Merriam and Jerrie Mock were gutsy and intrepid women.

I put together a photo file on my iPad from image searches. I took screen shots from videos found on YouTube. I also dipped into my decades old scrap files for pictures of airplane cockpits and pilots, clouds and storms, and some of the countries Joan and Jerrie landed in. These I tacked to the bulletin board in my studio. For this project I also drew character sketches to become familiar with the women. I also enjoyed drawing and painting Amelia Earhart who had such a striking appearance.

My husband Mike helped by finding vintage model plane kits for a Cessna and Piper Apache on Ebay. He had fun putting the models together. Having three dimensional reference allowed me to capture any view I wanted.

Next I tackled the hardest part of any book project. The blank page. To get me over the hump, I drew rectangles to scale and gave myself just 10 minutes per spread to draw my first notion of the scenes. With each frame I thought about what point of view would work best. I varied close-ups with long shots, and I kept changing the point of view from spread to spread.

Thinking ahead to color, I visited and entered the keyword “1960s” to look at trending colors for that era. Having lived through the 60’s I already pictured gold and turquoise. I planned to differentiate Jerrie and Joan with the colors they would wear in the illustrations. In the book Jerrie wears cool colors and Joan, warm colors.

Next I drew tighter thumbnails. I then drew careful 6 x 10” drawings and submitted them for approval. After revisions, I enlarged the drawings and traced them on to 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper using my light table. Then I wet and stretch the paper so the final art will be perfectly flat.

Before painting I made small prints of the drawings on 90 lb. hot press watercolor paper for color sketches.

I use Winsor & Newton, Holbein and Sennelier watercolors. When the painting is complete I use Verithin and Derwent Studio colored pencils to reclaim the line and enliven some of the dark areas.

(Joan brought a few stuffed animals for company on the trip.) I layer transparent colors first, then add pigments with more substance.

For scenes with clouds and drama I used a different technique. Watercolor on gessoed illustration board. With this technique I use mostly semi-opaque colors that sit on the surface and lift easily. I can spritz, spatter and make puddles for dramatic effects. This stormy scene was FUN! I applied Pebeo masking fluid to the planes before painting.

I used the same approach with Joan’s Long Walk when she had to come to terms with losing the “race”. She reminds herself of her original motivation for the flight, to honor Amelia Earhart. In earlier books I would have painted a carefully researched background of the airfield in Guam in 1964. But I realized this spread was not about geography but about Joan’s state of mind. So I left out anything that would distract from the mood of the scene.

Thanks to my art director at Sleeping Bear Press, Felicia Macheske. Using interior art, she managed to produce a cover with three portraits and the world’s largest subtitle. And thank you, Aimee for a story that deserved telling.


Doris Ettlinger has been an illustrator since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1973. She later received an MFA from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Doris began illustrating picture books when she worked on the Little House program for HarperCollins. Over the course of her career she has illustrated 40 children’s books, including the award-winning titles A Book for Black-Eyed Susan and The Orange Shoes. Doris collaborated on the Little House program for HarperCollins, producing picturebooks and chapterbooks based on the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Other clients include Sleeping Bear Press, American Girl, Albert Whitman & Co., McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin and Simon & Schuster. She is represented by Cornell & Company

A native of Staten Island Doris lives and works in a 150-year-old gristmill on the banks of the Musconetcong River near Hampton NJ in Warren County, with her husband, Michael McFadden – artist, teacher and fine craftsman and where they raised their children, Ivy and Benjamin. On the top floor of the mill Doris coaches the Musconetcong Watercolor Group and teaches monthly workshops. She also demonstrates her illustration technique for art groups and elementary schools.

at the Open Studio for

My 40th children’s book has just been released by Sleeping Bear Press. Written by Aimee Bissonette, the book tells the story of two female aviators from 1964 who completed Amelia Earhart’s quest to fly around the world. This and many of my other titles are available for sale and I will be happy to sign them for you.

…at the home and studios of Doris Ettlinger and Michael McFadden
10 Imlaydale Road, Hampton NJ 08827
908 537-6322
Saturday Oct 20, 1 – 6 pm
Sunday Oct 21, 1 – 6 pm
Thank you Aimee for sharing your book and its’ journey. And thank you Doris for sharing your journey and all those wonderful illustrations from the book. It looks like a fantastic book. I hope you get a lot of people stop by for the book’s launch. What a treat for anyone who can make the book signing to have it in your studio.
Talk tomorrow,


  1. Such an interesting post. Congratulations on AIM FOR THE SKIES —looks wonderful!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This book is so appealing! And, of course, Doris’s watercolors are beautiful 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a great story and story behind the story. Count me in. Will FB and twitter this

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love nf pb and this one looks awesome. I especially enjoyed reading about and viewing the art during the illustration process.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a wonderful story. I love Doris’s illustrations and really am interested in this true story. I shared on FB,Twitter and am reblogging as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Darlene Beck-Jacobson and commented:
    A wonderful non-fiction tale that is beautifully illustrated.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’d never heard of these women before, but now I am fascinated! The illustrations are outstanding. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting story and beautiful illustrations!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wonderful review Kathy of the story and art! Thanks to Aimée and Doris for their in-depth info on the making of this rich book!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Kathy, what a gorgeous new #PB! Loved learning the story of these brave pilots & the backstory of the book.

    Liked by 1 person


    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow! Congratulations, Aimee! What a great story. I’m so glad you re-discovered this story and brought it to light for children. I can’t wait to read the book.

    Liked by 1 person

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