The Girl with her Head in the Clouds: The Amazing Life of Dolly Shepherd

The Girl with her Head in the Clouds: The Amazing Life of Dolly Shepherd

By Author / Illustrator

Karen McCombie, Anneli Bray


Historical Fiction

Age range(s)



Barrington Stoke Ltd




Paperback / softback




1904, Alexandra Palace, London. When a couple of showmen need a stand-in for a trick that involves shooting an apple off a human target's head, sixteen-year-old Dolly Shepherd volunteers on the spot. Little does she know that this will be the first of many stunts and the start of a sensational career. But the life of a parachutist is as dangerous as it is daring, and there will be many close shaves along the way ...

Pioneering aviatrix Dolly Shepherd comes alive in this thrilling reimagining of her death-defying life from bestselling author Karen McCombie.



In The Girl with her Head in the Clouds: The Amazing Life of Dolly Shepherd, 16 year old Dolly Shepherd has no second thoughts when she steps up to be the human target in an apple shooting stunt starring a showman wearing a blindfold. It proves to be just the start of her sensational and death-defying adventures. When she's offered the chance to take to the sky in a hot-air balloon as part of an aerial display team, Dolly, aviation-obsessed since childhood, jumps at it even though the balloon pilot plans for her to plummet to earth attached to just a flimsy parachute. Solo flights follow then double descents but as the danger increases so does the potential for disaster to strike...

This absolutely astounding story is the reimagining of the fascinating life and pioneering career of expert aeronaut, Dolly Shepherd as she discovers her love of the skies and breaks all manner of boundaries for women in society.

Karen McCombie is the perfect author to bring Dolly's character vividly to life off the page. Her admiration for the incredible achievements of this real-life pioneer shine through every word. Courageous but kind-hearted, feisty, fearless, daring and determined, Dolly is an unstoppable force. Her love of her family keeps her grounded even though her head is permanently in the clouds. Dolly is a completely engaging character we want to learn more about.

McCombie packs in just the right amount of historical and scientific aeronautical detail to create a real sense of time and place, fully immersing the reader in Dolly's life without ever feeling bogged down. Alexandra Palace, backdrop to the entertainments which launched Dolly's thrilling career, becomes almost a character in its own right. Fittingly, McCombie details Dolly's later life too which is no less remarkable - truck driver and mechanic in the First World War, fire marshal in the Blitz - Dolly is every bit as inspirational a role model now as then. This is history as it should be told, with real human interest, and the short chapters and intrinsic drama make it the perfect read aloud for upper KS2 and lower KS3.

Barrington Stoke has a well-deserved reputation now for producing brilliant stories by outstanding authors to unlock the love of reading for those who find it more difficult - and this is one of their best to date. McCombie's writing positively sparkles with energy and excitement. There's real heart-stopping drama and some humour too - no mean feat in just 92 pages! Anneli Bray's quirky and stylish illustrations, packed with period detail, set off the story perfectly, capture Dolly's daredevil nature and help make this story super readable.

The specially designed dyslexia-friendly font, the increased spacing between and around the text and the heavier weight, dark cream tinted paper guarantee that ALL readers can enjoy this book - and they will, it's educational, entertaining and, above all, hugely inspiring too.

Other retellings of incredible life stories from Barrington Stoke include Race to the Frozen North by Catherine Johnson (Matthew Henson), Respect by Michaela Morgan (Walter Tull) and After the War by Tom Palmer (Windermere Boys). Real life incidents in history also inspired Anzac Boys by Tony Bradman, Stars Shall Be Bright by Catherine MacPhail and The Dog Who Saved the World Cup by Phil Earle.

80 pages / Reviewed by Eileen Armstrong, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 9+


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