It was a thrill to write my first book, It’s Her Story: Amelia Earhart. And it’s a graphic novel, to boot! It was an exciting challenge to fit a lot of information about the aviator’s life into a few dozen pages in a way that would be accessible and inspiring to elementary school readers. As a record-breaking pilot, she had so many professional accomplishments to share.
I wrote the narrative and the dialog. And though I did not draw the images in the book, I did describe them in detail–sometimes way too much detail for a 3×5 inch box. Fortunately, I had a rockstar editor, Kathy Broderick, who helped me trim and refine everything. She also ably translated my vision to Alan Brown, the illustrator. He did an amazing job.
The illustrations help further the story of Amelia’s life, but I want to highlight some of the “Easter eggs” and expand on the illustrations.
Learn more about Amelia Earhart’s life and times
She did not have an active role on her first flight across the Atlantic. She later referred to herself as baggage even though her official title was flight commander. Not only did she not get paid to take part in the trip (though the pilot was paid handsomely), she had to write articles about the experience. Payment for those articles went to the flight sponsor, not to her bank account.
Basketball is dangerous for girls
The illustrations on page 10 reveal some key context for her life. Amelia’s mother bought her girls “gymnasium suits” for their active play, but most girls of their time dressed in “proper” attire and were encouraged to play gently so as not to get dirty. The titles of the books noted in the illustrations are childhood favorites that Amelia mentioned in one of her memoirs. She was an avid reader. Another key point is the headline, about basketball being dangerous for girls. I did not make this up! For example, see this look-back at a 1903 article in the Saturday Evening Post. Yikes!
Side note: In Illinois, interscholastic basketball leagues for girls were canceled in (or near) 1906. The teams weren’t reinstated until Title IX went into effect in 1972. Double yikes!
Amelia created her own vision board
On page 11, it’s hard to tell what’s happening in the upper left panel, but Amelia is making a scrapbook. She always knew she wanted a career, so she kept clippings of women who held important jobs and did exciting things. She never intended to be a housewife or depend on her husband for an income (it hadn’t worked out well for her mother). Also, based on a true story, the soldiers featured in the lower-left panel are missing limbs.
Amelia Earhart and the Flu Pandemic of 1918
Amelia Earhart is just like you- she lived through a pandemic! Amelia was impacted by the 1918 influenza pandemic. She was hospitalized with pneumonia and suffered long-term issues with her sinuses as a result. At times, this damage caused her pain when flying or caused her to be grounded. Alas, these tidbits did not make it into the book.
Notice on the spread of pages 14-15 that her hair gets shorter and short as she takes up flying. I don’t know if this was to blend in with the men or because it got tangled up flying, but she noted this progression in her memoir, so we included it in the book.
Also, note her father’s comment about women voting on page 14. The 19th Amendment, which gave (white) women the right to vote, was passed on August 18, 1920. Amelia began her lessons in 1921.
Muriel and Mom chipped in
Although Amelia worked hard to save for her first airplane, she did not purchase that plane on her own. Her sister and mother both chipped in to help as noted in the first panel on page 19. Some biographies make it seem like Amelia did this on her own. She did not. She was assisted thanks to her family and her mother’s generational wealth. Amelia certainly accomplished a lot on her own, but she had this early support. Later, when she was successful, she helped support both of the women who helped her get started.
So, those are some inside tips regarding the first half of the book. I’ll follow up on the second half in the future.
One tip for writing a biography is to not just read about your subject but to also read around them. Along those lines, Fly Girls by Keith O’Brien, was a fantastic way to learn about Amelia, but also her female colleagues who sought to make their mark in aviation in the 190s and 30s.
Amelia Earhart Educator’s Guide
Yes, I’m available for virtual author visits if you’re interested. But you can bring Amelia into your classroom with this study guide from the publisher. The downloadable PDF features general discussion questions, as well as a STEM connection with math, science, and geography prompts.