Girl meets sky: Amelia Earhart touched the stars

Elegant Earhart poses in the cockpit ready for takeoff. Public domain photo

by Alicia Rudnicki, Library Mix

This is the third article in a four-part series about girls, both fictional and real, seeking adventure in the sky.

Amelia Earhart repeatedly thrilled the world with her aeronautical exploits from the early 1920s through her disappearance on a flight around the world in 1937.

Speaking about one of her flights, Earhart said, “The stars seemed near enough to touch and never before have I seen so many. I always believed the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, but I was sure of it that night.”

Although Earhart didn’t live long on earth, she still lives in the hearts of all who long to  touch the stars.

“A” is for Amelia and for adventure
Imagine that you are an 11-year-old girl “dying” for something exciting to happen. Now, imagine that your teacher assigns you to write one of those acrostic name poems to describe a famous figure from history.

Perhaps you would choose Amelia Earhart and read a children’s biography about the enormously popular pilot who disappeared somewhere in the Pacific Ocean while circumnavigating the world.

You might decide: “A” is for amazing aviator. “M” is for mystery. “E” is for elegant. “L” is for Lady Lindy. “I” is for independent, and “A” is for adventure.

Maybe you would say, “Hey, she’s interesting. Someone should make a movie about her.”

Well, you’d be on to something. October 23, 2009, Fox Searchlight is releasing a movie called Amelia .

Here are bits and pieces of information about Earhart’s life from various biographies for children. A number were published around 1997, which was the 100-year anniversary of her birth in Kansas.

Amelia Earhart: The Pioneering Pilot,
by Andrew Langley, Oxford University Press, 1997

Langley’s writing is spare and vivid in this 32-page history detailing Earhart’s childhood as well as her adult accomplishments. The illustrations by Alan Marks are lovely and lots of fun, especially the picture of little Amelia sailing down from the barn roof on her homemade rollercoaster, looking joyful before crashing.

Forget dreams of white picket fences and a home bustling with children! As a girl, Earhart craved to see the world, and that’s just what she did but from an aerial view.

Langley neatly sums up Earhart’s lifelong desire to redefine what girls could do. She certainly didn’t listen when her grandmother reprimanded her for climbing fences by saying, “Only boys do that.”

As Langley writes, Earhart was so intent on refusing “to follow the crowd” that her classmates called her “the girl in brown who walks alone.”

Flying Ace: The Story of Amelia Earhart, by Angela Bull, DK Publishing, 2000
This 49-page biography is notable for its lively combination of color illustrations and historic black and white photos.

There are also numerous sidebars placing Earhart in the context of her times and work as a pilot. These cover topics such as Prohibition, the air acrobatics of World War I pilots such as the Red Baron, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the fight for women’s suffrage, wooden propellers, and an explanation of the equator along which Earhart flew during her fateful attempt to circle the world.

Sky Pioneer: A Photobiography of Amelia Earhart, by Corning Szabo,
National Geographic Society, 1997

Two of the most striking images in this biography for older children are images of Charles Lindbergh and Earhart on facing pages. Lindbergh and Earhart look as if they could be brother and sister, both tall, lean, elegant, and Nordic-looking.

It is easy to see why publisher George Putnam selected Earhart to be the first woman passenger on a trans-Atlantic flight that he was financing and why he nicknamed her “Lady Lindy.”

Putnam hoped the journey would produce tremendous book sales as had Lindbergh’s 1927 non-stop Atlantic crossing. He wanted the woman he chose to be a pilot who was well educated and had “a pleasing appearance and manner,” but he didn’t want her to help with the flying.

Beautiful Bessie Coleman, who was the first woman to earn an international aviation license and the first licensed black aviator, died in 1926 a year before Lindbergh’s renowned flight. Similar to Coleman, Earhart was fiercely independent.

Earhart, the sixteenth woman in the world to earn an international license, accepted Putnam’s offer, but rankled at the thought of having to leave the flying to men. Although the trip made her feel like “baggage,” it also  made her wildly famous.

As Sky Pioneer notes, the early feminist “did not feel that her role as a passenger should make her a heroine. She hoped someday to pilot a plane across the ocean—‘to prove that I deserved at least a small fraction of the nice things said about me.’”

Putnam became Earhart’s publicist, and they eventually married. reports Earhart, sounding a bit too sensible, as describing their marriage being “a reasonable partnership…conducted under a satisfactory system of dual control.”


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