Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” by Michael O. Tunnell

the candy bomber

9 of 10: Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift’s “Chocolate Pilot” is a terrific non-fiction offering for older elementary students and middle grade readers. It was a story I’ve never heard before and it also explained the post-war occupation of Berlin more clearly than I’d understood it before. 

I picked this book out of the Charlesbridge catalog based solely on the title and when it arrived earlier this week, Bart was with me when I opened the box. When I pulled this book out, Bart said, “Hey, that is my friend’s grandfather!” Who knew?

Amusingly, when I opened The Candy Bomber and saw some of the pictures, the family resemblance between the pilot and Bart’s friend (who I know quite well) is extremely strong, which made the book even more fun for me.

Candy Bomber by michael o. Tunnell

The story is about Gail S. Halvorsen, an Air Force pilot after WWII, who was stationed in Germany after the war. During a brief tour of Berlin, he met some children and handed them some gum (there were about thirty children and he only had two sticks), but felt badly that there wasn’t enough for all of them. He told them he’d collect some candy and then drop it by plane over the fence where they were standing. They asked how they could identify his plane and he said he would wiggle the wings before he dropped it.

He thought he might get in trouble for it, so he didn’t ask his commanders if it was okay to move forward with his little mission, instead asking his fellow airman to donate their candy rations to him. Despite the great worth of candy (which was practically non-existent in Germany), many of the men pitched in, and Halvorsen made little parachutes out of handkerchiefs so that the candy wouldn’t hurt the kids when it dropped.

Over the course of a few weeks, he and a few other airmen a few more drops (the crowds of children getting larger each time), until he was called in by his commander who had been notified by the government after a reporter nearly got beaned by a candy bar and wrote an article that was spreading through Europe. The commander wasn’t angry that Halvorsen was dropping candy, he just felt stupid that he’d been called with congratulations on the good publicity for the US military in Berlin and he hadn’t known anything about it.

After that, donations started pouring in and the candy drops became larger and more frequent. And it just got bigger from there, as Halvorsen likes to say, “for two sticks of gum.”

The Candy Bomber gives enough background to make the situation make sense, but not so much that it’s distracting or that it drags. I didn’t know anything about the Berlin Airlift project before this and it explained it in very clear terms.

The Candy Bomber book is full of great pictures and images and it’s a quick read (I finished it in less than an hour). This is a book that is definitely worth picking up.

Copy provided by Charlesbridge Press 

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  1. Hey, my mom lived at the Halvorsen's house for a bit while going to BYU – she was good friends with their daughter I believe. I've often heard stories about the candy bomber while growing up. And I took a class from Michael O. Tunnell.

    It's a Small Mormon world after all.

  2. Heather stole my comment again 🙂 I was gonna say the same thing (well except for the class from Bro Tunnell part…) Maybe I'll have to read this one.

  3. There's a children's book called Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot which is a touching story about Gail Halvorsen. I read it to my 8th graders when we learned about the Berlin Airlift. They loved the story and it brought the history alive for them. I love stories like these. Glad you enjoyed this one. I'll have to look into it!

  4. Col. Halvorsen is a friend of the family! And we've run into him several times over the years in a professional capacity. The Mormon world may be small, but the Mormon military world is even smaller!

  5. This sounds interesting!

    On another note, I have four YA books sitting in front of me and don't know which one to read first. Which would you recommend out of The Midwife's Apprentice, Princess Academy, The Westing Game, and The Giver? I picked them all up at the library yesterday and don't know where to start!

  6. Another Mormon military member here – – Gail Halvorsen actually spoke at my husband's commissioning ceremony at BYU (also they day we graduated). It was fascinating to hear him and hear his stories!

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