This book is for older readers although it has a picture-book format. The author describes Earhart’s childhood and how much she loved adventure games, maps, and atlases. When she couldn’t find games challenging enough, she invented her own. For example, she built her own roller coaster in her backyard when she was seven.
After World War I, it happened that Earhart visited a military flying field and she decided she wanted to fly. Her father arranged for her to ride in a plane and she was hooked. She manage to find a woman instructor and soon arranged to buy her own plane. As part of her learning process, she crashed more than once (into soft fields), but was never deterred. She became a social worker to support her hobby.
In 1928 she got a call from a publisher and promoter, George Putnam, who was looking for a woman willing to fly from Newfoundland to England with another pilot and a mechanic. She agreed and the three of them were successful, although they ended up in Wales rather than their original goal of Southampton. She became famous, went on a speaking tour, and eventually married George Putnam. She also became president of the first organization of licensed women pilots and helped start two commercial airlines. She continued to fly though, setting new records. (You can see a timeline of her achievements here.)
She wanted to prove she could fly across the Atlantic all alone, and in 1932 left from New Jersey for Newfoundland, and then out over the ocean. In spite of bad weather and mechanical problems, she made it Ireland. In 1935 she became the first woman to fly from Hawaii to California. Now she wanted to fly around the world. After several false starts, she left on June 1, 1937 with only one navigator, Fred Noonan. She and Noonan were last heard of on July 2 after they took off from New Guinea.
As the Amelia Earhart website reports:
“By June 29th, when they landed in Lae, New Guinea, all but 7,000 miles had been completed. . . . their next hop—to Howland Island—was by far the most challenging. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter ITASCA, their radio contact, was stationed just offshore of Howland Island. Two other U.S. ships, ordered to burn every light on board, were positioned along the flight route as markers. ‘Howland is such a small spot in the Pacific that every aid to locating it must be available,’ Earhart emphasized.”
Early the next morning, the Itasca picked up the message, “We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” The ship tried to reply, but the plane seemed not to hear. At 8:45, Earhart reported, “We are running north and south.” Nothing further was heard from her.
The U.S. government launched a massive search, but they were never found. Rumors and conspiracy theories have proliferated ever since. Some clues were found however on Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro), a remote island in the western Pacific Ocean.
Nikumaroro Island is about 400 miles southeast of their intended destination, Howland Island. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) made several expeditions to Nikumaroro during the 1990s and 2000, finding bones and artifacts that may have belonged to Earhart and Noonan. They theorized that Earhart and Noonan might have crash-landed there, and survived for several weeks before succumbing to injury, starvation, disease or dehydration on the waterless atoll.
The clues they found included beauty and skin care products that may have dated to the 1930s, parts of a folding pocket knife, traces of campfires bearing bird and fish bones, clams opened in the same way as oysters in New England, and U.S. bottles dating from before World War II. Small pieces of bone were found but DNA analysis could not even determine whether they were animal or human. You can read more about the TIGHAR Earhart expeditions here, and you can read about their latest surprising findings here.
The author writes:
“Perhaps her most important legacy is what she has to say to all of us – male and female – about having the courage to take on challenges and pursue a dream. Think for yourself, she would say. Figure out what you love to do. And then go out and do it.”
Side bars provide more information on the history of the time. There are also many actual photos in the book, as well as illustrations by David Craig. At the end of the book, there are references and resources, including a list of websites with more information. The official Earhart website reports that she left a letter for her husband in case the flight proved to be her last:
“’Please know I am quite aware of the hazards,’ she said. ‘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.’”
Evaluation: Amelia Earhart was always one of my heroes, and this book does justice to her story. I especially love the excellent collection of actual photos included in the book.
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2008