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Battle of the Books

Round 1, Match 1: Amelia Lost vs. Anya’s Ghost

Amelia Lost
by Candace Fleming
Random House
Anya’s Ghost
by Vera Brosgol
First Second

Judged by
Matt Phelan

Going strictly alphabetical is a pretty good idea for BoB and creates interesting contests. As luck would have it, I have more than a passing interest in both comics and around-the-world adventurers (with a particular fondness for a few who succeeded).

Let’s start with a similarity. We have here the two most striking covers of the year.  They don’t beg, “Read me!,” they coolly inform you that, “Yes, you do want to read me. Now.” Both covers consist of a grayed image and red lettering. Anya’s Ghost is all swirls and curves with that great shape of the hair leaving room for the title. Amelia Lost has lines as straight as a plane’s wingspan and there, looking heroic and cooler than anyone you know, is Amelia in her leather flight suit. Kudos to Vera Brosgol and Colleen AF Venable for designing Anya and Rachael Cole for designing Amelia. So far, it’s a draw.

Anya’s Ghost is the first graphic novel by Vera Brosgol. Her command of the comics’ medium is startling. There is not a moment in the book where you feel that the storytelling is perhaps off-track or the images are not communicating. Anya’s Ghost moves with confidence and clarity, deftly mixing fantasy with teen reality and is, in turns, very funny and seriously menacing. She manages that tricky balancing act thanks in large part to her very impressive drawing skills. Her cartoon style does not limit her ability to render complex facial expressions and moods. Quite the opposite. Take a look at any character (yes, background characters, too) in any panel and you will see what I mean. Her drawing delivers everything you need to know, every beat, every mood. She doesn’t merely draw, she acts with her brush. If that weren’t enough (and in graphic novels, it actually isn’t), Brosgol can write. Her dialogue is sharp and funny and is always in service of moving the story forward. You won’t find pages of chitchat here, each word counts and aids the pacing of the panels and scenes. This book moves so smoothly that it seems effortless. It is not effortless. Brosgol knows exactly what she is doing, and Anya’s Ghost is the kind of graphic novel that fans of the medium and those who’ve never read one will equally enjoy.

BONUS POINTS: Microfilm. I love microfilm. I hope the microfilm scene inspires teens to give it a try. That’s if they actually still exist, of course. Dig them out, librarians! The Google backlash is bound to happen sooner or later and nothing says punk-rock research like microfilm.

Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming pulls off the amazing feat of building suspense in a story where the ending is already known (by me at least, and probably most readers). As I read the perfectly balanced alternating chapters detailing Amelia Earhart’s life up to the last flight and the tense hours after she vanishes, I felt the book pulling me along, leading me on her journey and then placing me in the search. I was on board the Itasca, listening for signals. I was one of those ordinary folks (two of whom were teens) turning the dial of their radio and by chance picking up a faint crackling call for help. I imagined the feeling of being alone in your living room and hearing over the airwaves: “This is Amelia Earhart.” I felt the tension that the world felt at that moment, when hope gave way to chilling reality.

I appreciated and enjoyed the many sidebars in Amelia Lost (particularly the Morse-code tutorial, which I’m betting will be put to good use in schools after this), but I read them quickly, preferring to get back to the two main narrative threads. What I really liked was the introduction of so many great side characters, who could each be the subject of their own nonfiction or fiction book. There’s Dana Randolph, the 16-year-old radio enthusiast. There are the many other women who claimed the title of aviatrix, including Thea Rasche, Elsie Mackay, and Elinor Smith, the teenage daredevil who weaved illegally under the four bridges on New York’s East River. And last but not least, there’s Amelia’s teacher, the five-foot-tall redhead spitfire, Neta Snook (which may be the best name ever).

BONUS POINTS: Goggles. No explanation necessary.

Now that I think about it, Anya’s Ghost and Amelia Lost have more in common than their striking covers. Both books are constructed with precision, paced perfectly, and designed to lead you through these stories with confidence and invisible skill. Each book has moments of beauty and terror: The scene where Anya tosses Emily’s bone into the air so the hapless ghost can have a brief ecstatic moment of freedom from her earthbound non-existence. The you-are-there description of Amelia’s solo flight across the Atlantic… alone, cold, soaring above the vast dark ocean with the stars to guide her, the roar of the engine so clear and deafening.

So where does that leave a judge who is deeply impressed with both books?

Amelia Lost succeeds in what it sets out to do, but for this reader it also manages to do more. Thanks to this book, an icon became a living breathing extraordinary human being with ambition, drive, and personality. I now know about the not-so-famous characters who are part of her story. But most importantly, this book provided more than facts. It inspired me to feel this story in my imagination, to experience a part of history.

I’m sending Amelia Lost soaring to the next round.

Neta Snook!

— Judge Matt Phelan


And the Winner of this match is……

As I was reading Matt’s decision, I was struck by the difference between judging solo for BOB and judging as part of a committee. In the former, you—and you alone—have to decide between two books. In the latter, you have power, but it’s not absolute. You are a fraction of the whole looking at a larger field. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of AMELIA LOST and ANYA’S GHOST. I had Newbery aspirations for the former and Printz designs for the latter. But it was not meant to be and now they are both here fighting for BOB glory. In this decision, I would crave the relative anonymity of a committee decision, where I could allow my fellow judges to sway me one way or another with passionate arguments, rather than climbing out on a limb by myself. So I don’t envy Matt, but I probably would have made the same decision—and for the same reason. Neta Snook!

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt

I must confess: I didn’t really like Amelia Lost all that much. I feel as if it didn’t present Amelia’s fascinating life in a smooth, story-like way. And what about Neta Snook (yes, a great name!)? I began to wonder more about the other woman aviators. Just because Amelia was first and had an outgoing personality, she has become one of the most well-known aviators in history. I find that unfair. Anyways, that’s besides the point. In retrospect, and after reading Mr. Phelan’s review, I like Amelia Lost much more than I originally did. If I had a choice, though, I would pick Anya’s Ghost, which I found to be a really fun comic that any child would enjoy.

— Kid Commentator RGN


  1. Hooray for Amelia! I was so utterly engaged by Amelia Lost that I took her to the dinner table and started spouting off Amelia trivia all throughout the meal. She is so deserving of a spot in Round 2! And let’s just hope it’s against Between Shades of Gray…

  2. Sara Ralph says

    Yay! I predicted the first winner. Somehow, I think this will not be the same for the rest of the first heat.

  3. YES! So happy to see Amelia getting some love. I liked Matt Phelan’s comparisons. The books do have a surprising amount in common.

  4. Jennifer H says

    I really enjoyed Anya’s Ghost, but Amelia Lost had my nerves taut, anxious to read the next page, desperate to find out what happened after she crashed. It didn’t seem to matter that I already knew she wouldn’t be found. And I’ll admit, when I read about Neta, part of me wished the book was about her instead!

    I’m hoping Amelia makes it to the final round, but I took a chance and picked another book for the undead poll, so I was very nervous opening the blog this morning, fearing I might have made a grave error! To my great relief, my bracket is intact. Go Amelia!

  5. Yay! I enjoyed Anya’s Ghost, but I feel like Amelia Lost has not gotten close to the recognition it deserves. Hooray for the BoB!

  6. This was a win-win round as far as I was concerned. And Matt’s commentary was outstanding! What a great way to kick-off the BoB’s. Now I am hoping for an Amelia/Bootleg non-fiction face-off!

  7. I haven’t spent nearly enough time thinking about these brackets and making choices. That said, while I love both these books, Amelia is a historical figure close to my heart and I am thrilled that this book has gotten so many more kids interested in her life. Hooray for Amelia!

  8. YES! My favorite book of the year gets some overdue recognition! Here is where I admit how incredibly tempted I was to rig my school’s Mock Newbery to put her into the finals. Alas, I let the actual children vote and ran it honestly. But OH, how I want everyone to read this book! Bravo, Matt Phelan!

  9. I was really impressed by both of these books. I predicted Anya’s Ghost would win but I’m thrilled that Amelia made it to the next round. As I said yesterday, I thought Amelia Lost was pretty close to a perfect book, one that should constantly be put in the hands of children.

  10. RGN brought out what has stayed with me from Amelia: she wasn’t the only or even the best female pilot of her time, but she’s the best story. I love a book that makes students want to learn even more. Good choice! I’d love to see Amelia against Bootleg!

  11. This is SUCH a great analysis by Matt Phelan – I have reviewed his books in the past and now I feel like a schmuck, because I didn’t do near as good a job!

    However, I did predict Amelia in this round, and for the same reason: I was astonished to find myself getting goosebumps even though I knew exactly how the story was going to end! I do think Candace Fleming brought something new to it, and that is what your kid commentator mentioned – that Amelia’s prominence was at least as much a product of marketing and luck as skill and bravery.

  12. I really liked Anya’s Ghost, but I feel like it lacked a certain sophistication that The Great graphic novels have. Way to go, Amelia. And I’m with RGN on wanting to know more about other female aviators.

  13. I’d never have read Anya’s Ghost or Amelia Lost without BoB. So thank you – that’s why I love this contest!

  14. Thank you, Mr. Phelan, for spending some time on the graphic elements of both books–obviously important for graphic novels but also for nonfiction. That’s where I felt Amelia excelled. Its pacing was brilliant, but the whole look and feel makes it a great work of nonfiction. I have put it into the hands of every kid doing a biography report on AE, even if I though the reading level was slightly above them , simply because I wanted them to get a sense of her story through the images.

  15. Totally going with the kid on this one! Although I enjoyed both books, Amelia didn’t stand up to a second read like Anya’s Ghost did for me. I enjoyed it even more the second time around.

  16. Sam Bloom says

    What a perfect start to this year’s BoB. Actually, not to second guess our BoB friends, but it actually should have been Amelia Lost vs. Around the World (which was the best graphic novel of the year imho). Luckily for us, we get this fantastic analysis from Matt Phelan as a result, and for that – and the fact that he picked the right book – I am happy. I’m with Jennifer H – I feared that I had picked the wrong book in the Undead Poll, but thankfully Amelia moves on!

  17. Mr. Phelan, It is not often here, that we get the insight of a visual artist in conjunction with an author’s point of few. What a treat to have not only the artistry of the covers evaluated, but also the craft of graphic novels so well illuminated. I have been told that writing for graphic novels is its own kind of challenge and you, Matt Phelan, know of where you speak. Thank you for your explanation and for, of course, choosing my book.

    In comparisons of the two books, might I make one more observation? Both dealt with strong women who were deft at manipulating public opinion and getting what they wanted. One use hairstyles, publicity, and raw courage and the other used an ax.

    Bonus points for coining the phrase PUNK ROCK RESEARCH.

    Also, is Netta Snook! the new Bravo? If so:

    Netta Snook!

  18. Steffaney Smith says

    Now I have to pull Amelia Lost! out of my juvenile bio collection and read about Netta Snook! Thanks, Matt, for the Netta Snook battle cry!

  19. I agree with the kid commentator about Amelia Lost-I also felt like it was unfair that Amelia became so famous and everyone else is basically forgotten. How funny. But I did like the book, even if I didn’t particularly care for Amelia herself.

  20. One of the things I loved so much about “Amelia Lost” was how much I *didn’t* love Amelia herself all the way through. Fleming really gets at Amelia as a construct; her image-making and self-promotion were fascinating.

  21. YES. My guesses are one for one so far!

  22. Elisabeth says

    3 cheers for Amelia Lost and for a great first round! What a way to start off the year. I must say though, Mr. Phelan’s “[N]othing says punk-rock research like microfilm” is my new favorite quote. 🙂

  23. I am so happy that Amelia Lost won! I read bits and pieces of it on a super long bus ride with my friend. It was really good! I predicted that it would win (that was probably because I hate graphic novels.) Anyway I am super excited for the next round!!

  24. Hooray for Amelia Lost! Matt Phelan is spot-on about how the book makes you see Amelia Earhart as a 3-dimensional person, glory, flaws and all.

  25. Hooray! I guessed the first one right! I was also right, though, that the judge’s commentary and analysis is the best part! He opened my eyes to things I hadn’t noticed about both books.

  26. Our local library branch is called the Amelia Earhart Library because she was from North Hollywood. Here is a picture of it:

  27. Uh oh–sorry–wrong website above!
    (Darn that “copy-paste” technique!) Here it is–our beautiful statue of Amelia:

  28. Battle Commander says

    Thank you, Lisa S, for sharing this lovely image with all of us.

  29. I’m happy that I predicted the first winner!

  30. I thoroughly enjoyed both of the books and do not envy any of the judges in having to make these difficult choices. Congrats to Amelia Lost.


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