Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming, Schwartz and Wade, 2011 (review copy provided by the publisher)
When Candace Fleming writes a new book I have to read it. When I saw it was about Amelia Earhart my first reaction was, really? A quick (and by no means exhaustive) search of Amazon.com indicates there are 134 children's books about the famed aviator. Comparatively, Clara Barton only rates 65, Eleanor Roosevelt clocks in at 108, Dolly Madison -- 15, Abigail Adams -- 68, Marian Anderson --20, Susan B. Anthony -- 49, Helen Keller -- 119 (I really thought Keller might surpass her), Rosa Parks -- 122, and Sally Ride -- 34.
Clearly, Amelia Earhart trumps other female icons of American history in publishing. Fleming's book is unique though and is a rich addition to the Earhart bookshelf as 2012, will mark the 75th anniversary of the mystery of her disappearance over the Pacific Ocean.
Fleming shares this story in a unique way by planting the reader right there, on board the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, in the early morning hours of July 2, 1937, where the crew is listening and watching for Earhart's plane. The skillful storytelling pulls the reader right into the mystery of Amelia's disappearance. Even though we know the outcome, the reader feels caught up in the search and hopes that the story might have a different outcome this time. Hope flares for her recovery.
The book design invites the reader to dip in anywhere or read the story straight through. Images are captioned, and interesting facts and related events are highlighted in text boxes throughout. Some of the most fascinating aspects of the story to me were the pages featuring shortwave radio listeners in Wyoming and Florida who may have picked up some of the last broadcasts from the doomed plane. The story of that fateful day when Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan disappeared is told separately on gray shaded pages which can be read as they appear, interspersed throughout the book or easily located and read as a separate narrative.
Fleming provides an extensive bibliography which she has enhanced with subheadings explaining the role certain archives and references played in her research. She also includes a list of authoritative websites which is of immense value given the number of "speculative" sites that must be out there. Each chapter is documented with source notes and picture credits. I would share these pages with students to demonstrate the importance and value of documenting sources in research.
Rachel Cole's book design is lovely. The color scheme of white and soft gray echoes the hues of black and white photographs. The time period is further evoked by lettered titles and headings, by Jessica Hische, that were inspired by Art Deco posters of the time. The white space on the pages is balanced by a truly inspired choice of typeface called Electra. Earhart's plane was a Lockheed Model 10 Electra.
This is nonfiction storytelling at its very best. Candace Fleming engages us and invites us back in time. She keeps us turning the pages until hope is lost. She ends the book with Amelia Earhart's last written words which sum up why she is the focus of so many books today.
"Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others."UPDATED:
I have been HiStoryTelling and booktalking "this book to classes this week. The lesson has caused run on the Earhart biographies. Not ONE left on the shelf now. So many kids have asked to check the book out, that I am now planning to donate my review copy to the school.
Loved a moment during the lesson (when I was describing how Earhart blew off opportunities to really learn how to operate her radio which then led to her inability to communicate with the coast guard ship that had been sent to guide her in to Howard Island) when one of the boys in the class, put his face in his hands and shaking his head said, "Oh, man. Major Fail!"