Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger, illustrated by Teresa Flavin

February is Black History Month and I thought I would begin the month with a look at the life of Bessie Coleman.  Bessie was the first female African American pilot AND the first African American to hold an international pilot license.   Those are certainly achievements that deserved to be honored and celebrated.

And that is precisely what Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger do in this picture book biography of Bessie.  Born in 1892, Bessie was the 10th child of 13, growing up in a small house in Waxahachie, Texas.  She was able to attend school, but only when there was no cotton to pick.  But Bessie learned her arithmetic well and was able to make sure her family wasn't cheated when the cotton was weighed.

But Bessie wanted more and when she was 23, she moved to Chicago, where her brother was a Pullman porter.  She took a job giving manicures at a barber shop and listened to all the talk among the men.  That's where she heard about French female pilots from the soldiers returning from the Great War.  They must be somebody, she thought and from than on, she worked hard to save money to go to France and learn to fly.

And she did just that.  In 1921, Bessie earned her international pilot license and began stunt flying all over the United States and even dreamed of opening her own flying school, but that was a dream not to be realized.  First, she was in a crash with laid her up for months.  Then one day, in 1926, while taking a very shabby plane out for a test run, she was killed along with her mechanic.  Bessie was only 34 years old.

Fly High! is an ideal Black History Month introductory biography for young readers.  It is written in free verse, in language that is simple and direct, but not condescending to the reader.   But most importantly, it is the story of one woman's courage and determination against all odds to realize her dream of flying.  And it is an inspirational story - education was a luxury back in the early part of the 20th century for many kids who had to earn money to help support their family, but Bessie persevered - walking miles and miles to school, when she could attend, and to pick up and return the laundry her mother did to earn money.

Accompanying the text and adding so much to the story of Bessie Coleman's story, are plenty of beautiful, timely, folk-art inspired gouache paintings in bright pastel shades by Teresa Flavin.  And like the text, they are simple and direct, bringing it altogether.

All unconventional dreams carry a risk and Bessie's dream of flying was no different.  But Bessie was a trail blazer and her untimely death in the prime of her life shouldn't detract from that.  She had an indomitable spirit was so admirable and that we should always celebrate and Borden, Kroeger and Flavin have done a commendable job showing why.

This book is recommended for readers 9+
This book was borrowed from Contee Cullen Branch of the NYPL

This is book 2 of my Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy


  1. This looks like a great read! I'm always on the lookout for quality biographies for kids.
    Thanks for sharing this with the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  2. It's a shame that Amelia Earhart gets all the PR when there were so many other pioneering female aviators. I loved your book review and linked it, with credit to you of course, to my Girls Who Dare to Fly post.

  3. What an incredible story! And I second Mia's comment about Amelia Earhart. Bessie Coleman is so inspirational - and to think of the obstacles she had to overcome to achieve her goal! Great, great story and book! Thanks for sharing this in the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Can't wait to tweet about it. :D

  4. Our young readers do need more role models, particularly for girls in career fields that were not widely "approved" or accessible to them.

  5. That book cover caught my eye first, then the title to 'Fly High!' Free verse accompanied with gauche paintings sounds like a dream-book come true. Thanks for sharing it. I'll check for a copy from my library!


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