Bessie Coleman is quite the amazing historical figure. The day she realized she wanted to become a pilot, she quit her job. She then learned French so she could go to flight school in France. After an accident that grounded her in a hospital, her first plan was to get back up in the air. Bessie is a wonderful role model of dedication.
This Coretta Scott King Award winning biographical sketch has a unique frame of including the voices of the first African American female aviator’s family and friends’ voices describing her and the events of her life. The premise is that 20 people in Bessie’s life have gathered for her funeral. What follows are multiple accounts of Bessie as she aged in poetic form—her desire for education, to go North, to find the right career, to fly.
The paintings of Talkin' About Bessie are realistic and wonderful. E.B. Lewis included portraits of each person who is “speaking” about Coleman, which is a nice addition.
The book would probably need some added support from a teacher if it’s used with a child under third grade to remind the child among the speakers’ connections to Coleman and to explain the historical context.
Activities to do with the book:
This would be a wonderful recommendation for a student who is interested in black or female trailblazers or interested in aviation. After doing a lesson on the Wright brothers or Amelia Earhart a teacher could easily transition to sharing Coleman’s story.
If a teacher were using the book Let It Shine, this would be a wonderful book to share as a shorter alternative with many same themes (achievement, education, service, literacy, etc).
On the creative side, students could take on the perspective of others and write poems of what they think those people would think of them. Another option would be to write positive stories about other students’ achievements. Students could also dramatize each eulogizer’s speech to turn the book into a speech project.
“The form of the following story is fictional,
But the story itself is based on fact.”
“When it came to knowledge, Bessie was a miser,
hoarding facts and figures like gold coins she was
saving up to spend on something special.”
“I haven’t made up my mind about being a pilot,
but Bessie made me believe I could be anything.”