Engaging and appealing? Absolutely. Nonfiction? Not exactly. Young readers might at first assume that “Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean,” by Sarah Stewart Taylor, is factual, since elements like the bibliography in the back tend to suggest that. But the reader has to work a bit to filter fact from fiction in this entertaining account of Earhart’s stay at Trepassey, Newfoundland, before she crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1928.
True, the book looks like a graphic novel. And it carries a banner from the Center for Cartoon Studies, which has published similar books about Houdini, Satchel Paige and Thoreau. It’s very well written, even captivating at times, and Ben Towle’s black, white and blue art suggests the feeling of flight when it moves from panel-packed spreads to more open and expansive ones as the story, along with Amelia’s plane, takes off. The presentation — a sort of graphic-novel-style biography — is a breath of fresh air.
Yet the style itself, combining real and fictional people, complete with speech bubbles, also creates an issue. We get a strong sense of Amelia Earhart as a person, but the format puts words in her mouth in more ways than one. Taylor also creates a narrator who did not exist — Grace Goodland, a girl reporter following the events for The Trepassey Herald. Other than a few quotations — like the content of a telegram Amelia dictates to a clerk: “Thanks fatherly telegram. No washing necessary. Socks, underwear worn out” — the conversations between her and the other characters seem to be based on research, but largely invented. As an Amelia Earhart fan, I’ve always thought she was exciting enough without any assistance.
The added historical information in the back of the book is welcome, but because the bibliography and “suggested reading” sections are combined into one and include only adult titles, readers have no way of knowing which ones are for recommended reading and which were used as sources.
All in all, kids are going to eat this book up. I handed it to one reluctant reader who devoured it in a sitting, never once getting distracted. But that’s all the more reason for the book to have been unfailingly accurate, or to be clearly labeled a novel. Perhaps the ideal solution would have been an afterword like the one John Porcellino provided in his “Thoreau at Walden,” in the same series, to explain which parts were fictionalized. This would allow kids to enjoy the story while giving them the context to understand it better. But for now at least, they will walk away from this reading experience with a somewhat misleading version of Amelia Earhart’s time at Trepassey.Continue reading the main story
This Broad Ocean
By Sarah Stewart Taylor.Illustrated by Ben Towle
78 pp. Disney-Hyperion. $17.99. (Ages 10 and up)
Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas. She was the
daughter of a railroad attorney and had a younger sister named Muriel. Amelia was a
tomboy and was always interested in learning. She was educated at Columbia University
and Harvard Summer School. She taught English to immigrant factory workers. During
World War I, Amelia was a volunteer in a Red Cross hospital.
Amelia heard of a woman pilot, Neta Snook, who gave flying lessons. She had her
first lesson on January 2, 1921. On July 24, 1921, Amelia bought her first plane, a
prototype of the Kinner airplane and named it “The Canary.”
In 1928, she accepted the invitation of the American pilots Wilmer Stultzman and
Louis Gordon to join them on a transatlantic flight, becoming the first woman to make the
crossing by air She described the flight in a book she wrote, 20 Hours. 40 Minutes. After
that flight, Amelia made a career of flying.
Aviation was a new concept and the industry looked for ways to improve its
image. In 1921, Amelia was appointed Assistant to the General Traffic Manager and
Transcontinental Air Transport (TWA) with a special responsibility of attracting women
Amelia organized a cross-country air race for women pilots in 1929, the Los
Angeles to Cleveland Women’s Air Derby, later called the “Powder Puff Derby.” Amelia
placed third in this race. After the race, Amelia had a meeting in her hotel room in
Cleveland with other women pilots. She formed a women’s pilot organization called the
“Ninety-Nines” because of the ninety-nine applicants. She served as the organization’s
first president. Amelia continued to work for TWA and was writing regular articles for
Cosmopolitan and other magazines, and had speaking engagements in many cities across
In 1930, she broke several women’s speed records in her Lockheed Vega aircraft.
In 1931, she wrote a book about those exciting experiences called The Fun of It. By early
1932, no other person had successfully flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean since Charles
Lindbergh. Amelia decided she would be the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic.
She would not duplicate Lindbergh’s course, but would fly from Harbour Grace,
Newfoundland and the British Isles would be her destination.
On May 20, 1932, exactly five years after the Lindbergh flight, Amelia’s modified
Lockheed Vega began the journey. Since she did not drink coffee or tea, she would keep
awake by using smelling salts. All she took with her to eat and drink on this trip was
water, soup, and tomato juice. Amelia broke several records on this flight. She was the
first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean solo, the only person to fly it twice, it was the
longest non-stop distance flown by a woman, and the flight set a record for crossing the
Atlantic in the shortest time.
When Amelia returned to New York after her famous flight, she was honored by a
ticker tape parade. President Roosevelt presented her with the Special Gold Medal from
the National Geographic Society. Honors of all kinds were given to Amelia, as well as
keys to many cities in the United States. The United States Congress awarded her with
the Distinguished Flying Cross. Amelia was voted as Woman of the Year which she
accepted on behalf of all women.
Amelia’s next venture would be a transpacific flight from Hawaii to California,
then on the Washington D.C. Ten pilots had already lost their lives attempting this
crossing. She departed Wheeler Field in Honolulu and landed in Oakland, California to a
cheering crowd of thousands. After this flight, Amelia was busy on the road almost
non-stop with her lecture tours. During this time, she accepted an appointment at Purdue
University in Indiana. She would be a consultant in the Department for the Study of
Careers for Women.
Later in 1935, Amelia began to make plans for an around the world flight. This
flight would be two major firsts. She would be the first woman to fly around the world
and she would travel the longest possible distance, 29,000 miles, following a route around
the equator. Frederick Noonan, a former Pan Am Airlines navigator was chosen as the
flight’s navigator because he was familiar with the Pacific area. The plane chosen for the
flight was the Lockheed Electra 10E. The first leg of their journey would be from
Oakland, California to Hawaii on March 17, 1935. In Hawaii, Amelia had an accident
during take-off from Luke Field near Pearl Harbor. A great deal of damage was done to
On June 1, 1937, Amelia and Frederick Noonan left Miami, Florida to once again
begin their around the world flight. After many stops in South America, Africa, the India,
and Southeast Asia, they arrived at Lae, New Guinea on June 29. About 22,000 miles of
the journey had been completed and there were 7,000 miles more to go, all of them over
the Pacific Ocean. Photos taken at Lae show Amelia looking very tired and ill.
On July 2, 1937 at 00:00 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), Amelia and Frederick
took off from Lae with 1,000 gallons of fuel, allowing for 20-21 hours of flying time.
Their intended destination was Howland Island, a tiny piece of land a few miles long,
twenty feet high, and 2,556 miles away. The Coast Guard cutter Itasca was stationed near
Howland Island and was assigned to communicate with Amelia’s plane and guide her to
the island. Several short radio transmissions were received by the Itasca, but they were
unable to get a fix on her location because the radio contact had been too brief. At 19:30
GMT, almost twenty hours into the flight, the following transmission was received from
the Electra; “KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you, but cannot see you...gas
running low...” . After six hours of trying to communicate with the Electra, all contact
A search by the Navy and Coast Guard was organized and no physical evidence of
the Electra or of Amelia Earhart or Frederick Noonan was ever found. Over the years,
many unconfirmed sightings have been reported and there are many theories of their fate.
Some of those theories are that Amelia was a on a spy mission authorized by President
Roosevelt and was captured; that she purposely dove her aircraft into the Pacific; they
were captured by the Japanese, Noonan was executed and Earhart was forced to
broadcast to the American GI’s as “Tokyo Rose” during World War II; and another
theory is that Amelia lived for years on an island in the South Pacific with a native
fisherman. In 1961 it was thought that the bones of Earhart and Noonan had been found
on the island of Saipan, but they turned out to be those of Saipan natives. In 1992, a
search party reported finding remnants of the Electra at Nikumaroro, Kiribati, but those
claims were disputed by people who worked on Earhart’s plane. Researches believe that
the plane ran out of fuel and that Earhart and Noonan died at sea.
Amelia Earhart spent most of her lifetime establishing the permanent role of
women in aviation. She became an international heroine overnight as the first woman to
fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Amelia’s disappearance is still a mystery, but her enduring
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