Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean
written by Sarah Stewart Taylor
illustrated by Ben Towle
Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean begins with an image, not of a plane, but of a boat, a boat that is tossed on the waves of a stormy sea, smashes into a rock, and then, later, lies in pieces on a calm ocean.
It’s a reminder of both the importance and the peril of Amelia Earhart’s work. She pioneered a new mode of travel, but she still had to deal with the basic elements of wind and sea.
Ultimately, of course, Earhart met the same fate as the sailors, but this book does not focus on the mystery of her disappearance. Instead, it focuses on the 13 days she spent in Trepassey, Newfoundland, trying to get off the ground for her first transatlantic flight. Although she was an accomplished pilot by then, Earhart was going on this trip as a passenger. Basically, it was a publicity stunt: She wanted to be the first woman to cross the ocean by air, and two other women were also vying for that distinction.
Initially, the reader sees Earhart only from a distance. The main character is Grace, a young girl who yearns to become a journalist and get out of Trepassey, an isolated little town where the residents live off the debris from shipwrecks. Grace writes and publishes a little newspaper, which she tacks up at the village store.
On June 4, 1928, Earhart and her companions land in Trepassey, planning to head out the next day, but the weather and the plane don’t cooperate. Every morning, they board the plane and try to take off; every morning, for one reason or another, they fail. After each attempt, they return to the town, where they are tailed by reporters—including Grace.
Finally Grace meets Earhart and asks for an interview. Earhart tells Grace about her life as a pilot and gives her an exclusive—they will take off the next day, no matter what. Sure enough, the following morning, with a hung-over pilot and the bare minimum of fuel, Earhart and her crew take off, not smoothly, but successfully. And the next day, Grace gets another exclusive: Earhart sends her a telegram announcing her arrival in Wales.
In a nice little coda, the story concludes with a look at Grace, nine years later, working as a secretary in Halifax and still filled with hope that someday she will be a reporter. For her, Earhart’s accomplishment was as much about women’s abilities as about aviation, and the book ends on a sad note, as she sits in the rain, absorbing the news of Earhart’s disappearance.
Towle’s art is simple and straightforward; his figures are sturdy. He often interrupts the action with double-page spreads of landscapes or, more often, the ocean, reminding the reader that the forces of nature are never far away.
The book opens with an essay by astronaut Eileen Collins and closes with endnotes on some of the people and events mentioned in the story, which makes this a particularly rich resource for school and library use.