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Talkin About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman

by E.B. Lewis

School Library Journal Gr 3-8-This fresh contribution to the spate of relatively recent titles about Coleman has a decidedly unique tone. Talkin' is a well-conceived, well-executed, handsomely illustrated, fictionalized account of the life of the first black female licensed pilot in the world (CIP places the book in the 600s). An introductory note puts the aviatrix in historical context, but neglects to explain some references (e.g., Jim Crow laws). The text consists of 21 poetic vignettes of Coleman delivered by "speakers" at a funeral parlor, all of whom have come to mourn the pilot who died at age 34 in a plane accident. Their reminiscences on stark white pages are illustrated with miniature portraits bordered in sepia, each one facing a full-page watercolor capturing a moment in the woman's life. Skillfully drawn and occasionally photographic in their realism, the pictures perfectly match each speaker's recollections. A concluding note states rather definitively in regard to her death: "The cause of the crash remains a mystery" despite some evidence to the contrary. No sources are listed. While fictional, this is a fine piece to use to set a tone or inspire more research into Coleman's life. It could also serve as an exceptional writing model for students. The concept, much like Marilyn Nelson's Carver: A Life in Poems (Front Street, 2001), is noteworthy.-Harriett Fargnoli, Great Neck Library, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Born in poverty, Bessie Coleman overcame many obstacles to become a pilot, and only her untimely death kept her from opening the first flight school for African Americans. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Historic flights take the spotlight in two fall titles. Talkin' About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes, illus. by E.B. Lewis, recalls the life of the world's first licensed African-American female pilot through 20 eulogies, fictionalized perspectives based on actual people. "I remember that bone-chillin' January day in 1892/ when Bessie's first cry raised the roof/ off that dirt-floor cabin, back in Texas," Bessie's father, George Coleman, begins. Newspaper editor Robert Abbott tells of her enrollment in a French flight school ("No flight school/ in our color-minded nation/ would accept a woman, or a Negro"). Lewis's elegant inset portraits appear alongside the words of each speaker; full-bleed, full-page paintings illustrate dramatic moments in Coleman's life.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Book list Gr. 2^-5. In a volume that looks like a picture book and reads like a series of closely related poems, Grimes offers a many-sided portrait of the first African American aviatrix, Bessie Coleman. Following a brief introduction to Coleman's life, the story, couched in a fictional framework, opens in the parlor of a house in Chicago, where friends and relatives gather to mourn Bessie's death. Each spread features one person speaking about Bessie. A full-page watercolor faces a page with a small picture of the speaker and a free-verse reminiscence. The speakers range from mother to sister to flight instructor to news reporter, but teller by teller, the story moves chronologically and builds emotionally to the last entry, where Bessie speaks of the joy of flying. On the last page, Grimes comments on Coleman's life. Lewis' paintings, subdued in tone and color, reflect the spirit of the verse through telling details and sensitive, impressionistic portrayals. The verse reads aloud beautifully, making it a good choice for readers' theater. The book will also work well for reading aloud as the artwork shows up to good advantage from a distance. Although there have been other books about Coleman, this is a fine, original portrayal. --Carolyn Phelan

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.