Monday, March 21, 2011

Nonfiction Monday/Women's History Month Book Review: Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic, by Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Recommended for ages 5-10.  

There are no shortage of books for young people about aviator Amelia Earhart--everything from picture books to longer biographies.  So do we really need another book about Amelia?  I'd answer with a resounding "yes"; this new release by Robert Burleigh, which came out just in time for Women's History Month,  is a terrific addition to what is already in print. 

On his website, Burleigh comments that no matter what his topic (he has written over 30 books), he likes the book "to convey the feeling of immediacy, of being there--whether there is flying an airplane, hitting a baseball, or painting a picture."  In his newest book, just released in February, he has indeed succeeded admirably in making us feel that we're right there with Amelia on her dangerous 1936 solo flight across the expanse of the Atlantic ocean.

This handsome picture book opens with Amelia about to take off on May 20, from Newfoundland. The text is evocative and poetic, almost in free verse. "The plane swoops like a swallow/over dark puddles and patches of tundra...Amelia Earhart lives for this moment: to follow the wide horizon that never ends!" We see Amelia's red Vega plane already far in the distance, as small figures on the ground wave goodbye.

The writing is full of suspense as danger strikes--a raging storm. "The friendly night becomes a graph of fear: a jagged line between where-I-am and not-quite sure." Will Amelia be able to pilot her plane across the vast ocean to safety?

This time Amelia will land safely in the Irish countryside, startling some cows in the pasture, as a farmer comes running to greet her. But the happy ending is particularly poignant, since we know as we read this story that another flight--her attempt to fly around the world just five years later--won't end as happily for Amelia.

The book includes an afterword with brief biographical information, a bibliography, list of famous quotes by Amelia, and recommended internet resources.

Award-winning artist Wendell Minor has contributed stunning gouache and watercolor paintings for this new book, which you can explore further in the book trailer below. The endpapers, colored in an old-fashioned sepia, show details about her Lockheed Vega 5B, which she dubbed the "little red bus" and also a map depicting her flight across the Atlantic. I was particularly struck by the artist's dramatic use of light; as Amelia flies over the ocean in the darkness, many of the two-page spreads are illuminated by lightning over the ocean.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.

Other blog reviews:
Where the Best books Are
Round Table for Kids
BookLoons Review
Children's Book Round-up (Chicago Sun Times)

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