Monday, May 2, 2011

Amelia Lost

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming

published by Schwartz & Wade
118 pages

Publisher's description:

From the acclaimed author of The Great and Only Barnum—as well as The Lincolns, Our Eleanor, and Ben Franklin's Almanac—comes the thrilling story of America's most celebrated flyer, Amelia Earhart. In alternating chapters, Fleming deftly moves readers back and forth between Amelia's life (from childhood up until her last flight) and the exhaustive search for her and her missing plane. With incredible photos, maps, and handwritten notes from Amelia herself—plus informative sidebars tackling everything from the history of flight to what Amelia liked to eat while flying (tomato soup)—this unique nonfiction title is tailor-made for middle graders.

My comments:

The description above gets a couple of things wrong. Earhart drank tomato juice when flying, and while it may be intended for a middle grade audience, I think many older readers could pick up Amelia Lost without worrying that it is too young.

After a brief preface on the difficulty of separating fact from fiction (in which she dispells legends like Earhart's claim to have been unimpressed by an airplane at a 1908 fair), Fleming delves into Amelia's 1937 disappearance. Dual narratives cut back and forth between the 17-day search for Earhart's plane and her life story. Fleming has made a great effort to unravel the truth of Earhart's life and disappearance from the myths.

More pages are devoted to Earhart's professional life, but Fleming also depicts her youth, including the troubled home life caused by her father's drinking. Her adult personal life also gets adequate coverage, perhaps thanks to the fact that her manager, George Putnam, eventually became her husband.

Fleming doesn't portray Earhart as the only or even best female pilot of the time. She learned to fly from Neta Snook, and Louise Thaden beat her in the 1929 Women's Air Derby -- a race from California to Ohio. Earhart benefited from better publicity thanks to Putnam, and (as noted by Fleming) her disappearance guaranteed her legendary status. Fleming admires Earhart for what she was and is: an inspiration to women who dream of accomplishing more than is expected of them, and who wish to live life on their own terms.

Earhart's 1937 autobiography was fittingly titled The Fun Of It -- she seemed to delight in setting records and constantly pushing the boundaries of what she (or any pilot) was capable of. Before her last flight, told Putnam that if she must go, "I'd like best to go in my plane." The desperate messages later received from radio enthusiasts as far away as Florida indicate that in the end, she may have changed her mind.

There are many great photographs and newspaper clippings, courtesy of Purdue University and the George Palmer Putnam collection. I would describe the three maps that are included as "servicable" rather than "incredible." The most amazing illustration may be from Betty Klenck's notebook. Next to a page of doodles is a transcription of what may be Earhart's final calls for help (page 81). The design features a 1930s font and very cool 30s-inspired lettering from cover to cover. I also really like the many text boxes and sidebars that cover everything from a failed romance in Earhart's youth to her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.

For the most part, I didn't find any unnecssary definitions (one of my pet peeves) embedded in the text. A notable exception appears in "The Way It Works," a text box on page 3 that defines GPS and transmitted (it means "sent"). I was worried that this text box was an indicator of facile writing to come, but was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a fluke.

A bibliography, source notes, picture credits and index are appended. Of these sections, the bibliography is the most useful. It includes archival collections; books by Earhart, Putnam and Earhart's sister, Muriel; documentaries; and recent scholarly works. There's also a separate section for websites.

No comments:

Post a Comment