Monday, March 2, 2009

Modern Monday -- Women's History Month Kicks Off!

Amelia and Eleanor Go For A Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan
Pictures by Brian Selznick, Scholastic Press, 1999

At a conference in 2001, I heard Ryan and Selznick discuss this book and talk about its conception and realization. In the book's "author's note," Ryan explains how both women have long been high on her personal heroes list and when she read an obscure reference to their night flight in 1933 she was determined to write a story about it.

It turns out that Eleanor Roosevelt loved flying and longed to get her private pilot's license but circumstances prevented it. Instead she celebrated her love of air travel by flying more passenger miles in the 20s and 30s than any other woman in the world.

This book is a fictionalized account of a true event. Not only did Ryan find associated press articles about the night that Amelia Earhart visited the White House, but Selznick found photographs and in the thank you note Earhart sent she acknowledged the crab chowder, which Ryan faithfully included in the story.

It was fantastic to hear Selznick describe the research he did to create his illustrations. He used original photos of Washington D.C. in 1933; even his china patterns and wallpaper in the backgrounds were authentic. The artwork was done with graphite pencil and colored pencil and in black and white with tints of purple the images have an old-timey feel. The illustrations are rich with detail and that adds so much to the story. Truly Selznick and Ryan are a superb collaborative team.

"Amelia and Eleanor were birds of a feather."

In 1933 Earhart was already a celebrated aviator. She and her husband were in town for a speech she was delivering. When Roosevelt heard, she invited them over for dinner. The first few pages show the two women getting ready, putting on their gloves for the event contemplating how the Amelia's gloves were not unlike the ones she wore flying... and how Eleanor's gloves were not unlike the ones she wore while driving. Both of those activities were considered bold and somewhat dangerous for women.

During dinner Amelia enchanted everyone with her descriptions of flying at night. "Everyone at the table leaned closer to hear. Very few people in the whole world had flown at night, and Amelia was one of them."

In no time at all, a spur of the moment night flight was planned and Amelia and Eleanor boarded the Curtis Condor twin-motor airplane with plans to fly to Baltimore and back. Reporters met them after landing and peppered them with questions and it was evident to all just how much the women had enjoyed their time.

When they returned to the White House, before going inside they slipped away in Eleanor's new car, so she could have a turn at the wheel touring Washington D.C. from the ground. Truly these women were "birds of a feather."

In the official story Amelia doesn't actually fly Eleanor.. they simply ride together in an Air Transport plane, though Amelia did take the controls for a time. The author felt in creating her fictionalized version that it would be more exciting to allow each woman to display her own brand of independent spirit and adventure.

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