Week 6 Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman

Title & Author:  Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger

Summary:  Bessie Coleman was a pioneer for women, for African-Americans, and anyone who had a dream and worked hard to make it a reality.  The first African-American to earn a pilot’s license, Coleman went from a poor beginning in rural Texas to Chicago, then eventually to France in order to chase her dream of flying.  Early on, she was influenced by books, libraries, and the desire to better herself.  Her legacy can be seen today in many parts of Chicago.

Reference: Borden, L. & Kroeger, M. K. (2001). Fly high! The story of Bessie Coleman. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

My Impressions: Although I had heard of Bessie Coleman, I didn’t know much besides the name before reading this inspiring informational book.  The illustrations help to set the historical scene for the positive narrative chronicling her life story that ends all-too-soon.

Professional Review: “Borden (Good Luck, Mrs. K!, 1999, etc.) and Kroeger collaborate for the second time (Paperboy, 1996) in this easy biography of the first African-American to earn a pilot's license. Bessie Coleman was born in 1892, and despite an impoverished childhood and limited education, she became determined to make her mark on the world by learning to fly. Remarkably, she saved enough money to travel to France, the only place where an African-American woman could study aviation, and she earned an international pilot's license in 1921. She performed at air shows throughout the US, always urging young African-Americans to "flyhigh" and "be somebody." Coleman was planning to open her own flight school when she died in a plane crash at the age of 34. Her story is told in a positive, forthright style that reflects Coleman's lifelong self-education through reading and additional adult-education classes and her strong will to succeed, with an obvious but not preachy message that attitude plus aptitude equals altitude. Flavin's bright gouache paintings help bring Bessie and her era to life, with carefully researched costumes, airplanes, and backgrounds adding to the authenticity of the story. Readers who can't handle longer chapter-format biographies will fly right through this thoughtfully designed book, aided by lots of illustrations, short line length, and plentiful white space surrounding the interesting text. Most libraries will want to make room on the biography shelves for this one, which will be useful during Black History Month and for those inevitable biography book-reports.

Reference: Fly high! The story of Bessie Coleman. (2001, Jan. 1). [Review of the book Fly high! The story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger]. Kirkus Reviews, Jan. 1, 2001. Retrieved from http://www.kirkusreviews.com/

Library Uses: This book would lend itself well to any booktalk or program being held during Black History Month, or Women’s History Month.  

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