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Review: Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean

In 1928, the sleepy town of Trepassey in Newfoundland became the focus of international attention. Amelia Earhart, the woman aviator, was using Trepassey as the launching point for her attempt to be the first woman passenger to fly across the Atlantic. Told from the perspective of Grace, a young girl in town who writes the local newspaper, this is the fictionalized story of a ground-breaking event in both aviation history and women’s history.

Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean
Author: Sarah Stewart Taylor, Illustrator: Ben Towle
Ages: 10 and up
Disney/Hyperion Books, February 2010, ISBN 978-1-4231-1337-9
96 pages, $17.99

Rather than create a by-the-books biography of Amelia Earhart’s life, Taylor offers readers something more valuable: hope. Taylor shows us the inspiration that Earhart engendered both in her own time period and today through the eyes of two women–astronaut Eileen Collins, who writes the introduction, and the main character Grace. Grace wants, needs, to be a reporter, but she must constantly fight against people who assume she is too young and, more damning, too female. Earhart is also familiar with these prejudices, but refuses to let them stop her from achieving what she wants, needs, to accomplish. By using historical fiction instead of a typical children’s biography, Taylor makes Amelia less of a mythical figure and more of a real woman, albeit a strong, determined one. And Grace, who is a typical young teen girl, is the perfect stand-in for the reader’s own hopes, frustrations, and fears.

Both Towle and Taylor allow their story to build slowly with plenty of space where needed. The book opens not with a plane flight, but with a shipwreck. Trepassey is a town that often forages from the many shipwrecks that happen in the dangerous waters of their coast and this image of disaster is the perfect foreshadowing for the daredevil flight Earhart and her crew are about to undertake. There are plenty of images of flight later on, of course, and they are as uplifting as flight itself was for Earhart. But Towle doesn’t allow the uplifting elements of the tale to become overblown. His characters are drawn as down-to-earth as they probably were. Even the great Amelia is simply a woman, smart and brave and rather tomboyish, but still just a person. The focus remains always on what ordinary people can accomplish when they set their minds toward being extraordinary.

Even though Taylor’s story is fictionalized, she grounds it with plenty of research and panel discussions in the back offer the historical background for the major elements of the story. Late elementary school and middle school classes who are studying Earhart, the 1920s, aviation, or women’s history will find this a worthy and, more important, exciting addition to their reading lists. With this work The Center for Cartoon Studies adds another worthy graphic novel to their line-up being published by Disney/Hyperion, which includes John Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden and James Sturm’s Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Disney/Hyperion Books.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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