Thursday, December 8, 2011

Amelia Earhart This Broad Ocean

Written by Sarah Stewart Taylor
Illustrated by Ben Towle
Hyperion

Grace is a young lady in a small town trying to do something girls aren't supposed to do--write a newspaper.  Amelia Earhart is a grown up woman trying do something women aren't supposed to do--fly across the Atlantic Ocean.  When the two meet as Earhart is stalled trying to achieve her goals, the result is a touching story of hope and determination.  Read on as Earhart tries to cross...This Broad Ocean.

This is a short biographical comic that, like its cousin about Houdini that I read earlier this year, picks a point in a famous person's life and uses it to tell an educational story (with a moral at the heart) to a young adult reader.  Of the two, I think this one is far more effective in its goal, because of the clever link between Grace and Amelia.  Taylor shows both trying to be someone society tells them they shouldn't be--and demonstrates that both can overcome the odds.  With competition and obstacles ranging from an unreliable co-pilot to ridicule to others whose desire to be the first across the Atlantic is more of a lark than a blow for women's equality, Amelia Earhart is shown here as a real pioneer, inspiring the girl in the story (Grace) and hopefully, the young women (and men) who read the book.

I really like the plot and pacing of this book, which moves along just fast enough to tell the story while also showing the delays and frustrations for Earhart by making sure nothing happens too quickly.  Taylor is aided and abetted in this endeavor by Towle, whose panels move just slowly enough to indicate the lack of action but never drag to a halt.  His characters have a great small-town feel, looking like normal people who are a bit flummoxed by this intrusion by a woman trying too hard who should be at home, cooking and making babies.  I love the way Towle expresses so much emotion on his characters' faces, even though they're drawn quite simply, with just enough lines to get the point across.  He also quite neatly uses action lines to indicate surprise, without them feeling out of place in a non-manga, non-superhero story.  Towle places all of this in a world that feels very real, with a higher level of period detail than you might expect from a book like this one.

Those looking for a complete biography of Earhart will leave disappointed, but I like this use of a moment of  time to tell the larger concepts behind a figure that we often know more for her tragic death than for the struggles she overcame to become as big as Lindbergh (and without the antisemitism!).  Taylor once again excels here in her script, bookending the story with related, yet very different tragedies that impact on Grace's life.

As with any good graphic novel set for young adult readers, this one ends with historical notes and places for the student to turn next.  It's proven that students will move from comics to prose when given the opportunity, and I'm glad to see this book, like George O'Connor's Olympians, provides a means for them to do so.  Amelia Earhart This Broad Ocean is an excellent historical comic that reads well for both an adult and youth audience.  If you know a young adult looking to read about pilots and airplanes, this is a perfect fit.

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