Monday, June 20, 2011

Amelia Earhart

Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic
by Robert Burleigh, illus. by Wendell Minor
Simon & Schuster, 2011
grades 2-5

This beautifully illustrated book (gouache and watercolor) provides an account of Earhart's stormy 1932 flight across the Atlantic ocean. In the night pictures, you see a full moon and the gorgeous blues of the sky, and the vastness of crossing the ocean is very apparent. When the storm hits, lightning splits the sky, and then in the morning, as dawn breaks, "splinters of sunlight stab down through cloud slits and brace themselves on the vault of the open sea," and you see the golden hues of the rising sun. This is a perfect example of the text and pictures of this book melding completely and perfectly.

It's a shorter book, and, perhaps because of that, I'm even more appreciative of the afterword, bibliography, list of internet resources and quotes by Earhart included at the end. There is also a technical note by the illustrator, Wendell Minor, about the exhaust system on this plane of Earhart's. It was replaced when the little red plane was donated to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. (It was later gifted to the National Air & Space Museum.) Minor writes that on the sketch of the plane on the end papers, he included both exhaust systems, but that the replacement version was used in the paintings since that is what will be familiar to museum visitors. Would anyone have noticed this? I don't know, but the book scores huge points with me for mentioning this.

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming                                       Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House   2011                                                                          For older readers seeking more biographical information on Earhart, this is the book to choose. Fleming writes a chronological biography of Amelia Earhart, interspersed with the story of her disappearance. Written on gray pages to distinguish the story within a story, Fleming captures the fascination and mystery of Earhart's last flight.
The book begins with a chapter called "Navigating History." In it, Fleming writes, "Sometimes it's hard to tell fact from fiction," and that Amelia Earhart was a "celebrity with an image to maintain." The reader knows from the start that myths are going to be debunked - Fleming writes about just how carefully crafted Earhart's image was, and how she and her husband sought publicity and raised funds for Earhart's flights. Earhart endorsed various products, wrote a magazine column, and even had her own clothing line for a short period of time.

We see the training and preparation that went into Earhart's flights, as well as the times when she didn't seem to be as prepared as she could/should have been. Starting this book, I knew very little about Amelia Earhart, and I appreciate that with this, I had the chance to, as Fleming said, separate fact from fiction.

Also included in the book are sidebars, providing everything from a brief history of flight to an explanation of morse code, which serve to fully round out the story. There is a bibliography at the end, as well as websites for further information, source notes by chapter, picture credits and an index. These are great for readers wanting more information, but also give credit where it is due, and show just how much time and research Fleming invested.

For all of the information included, this book never overwhelms. It draws the reader in and provides a fascinating look at this pioneer of flight.

While very different from one another, both of these books are highly recommended.

Both titles reviewed from library copies


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