Talkin' About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books)

by Nikki Grimes

Other authorsEarl B. Lewis (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 2002



Local notes

921 COL



Orchard Books (2002), 48 pages


A biography of the woman who became the first licensed Afro-American pilot.


Original language


Physical description

1 p.; 9.2 inches


0439352436 / 9780439352437



User reviews

LibraryThing member lintng01
My chosen science biography is titled “Talkin’ About Bessie.” Written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by E.B Lewis. The book caught my eyes because it was a biography of someone who I knew nothing about. I found it hard to believe that this book was related to science, but the lady in the curriculum lab explained to me that it takes engineering to build a plane, and it takes science to fly a plane, and flying a place was exactly what Bessie Coleman did. The book talks about the childhood of Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman and how she became the greatest dare devil lady pilot in the history of flying.
The author of the book Nikki Grimes doesn’t just want the reader to capture the idea and the fact that Bessie was one of the greatest pilots of all time but she wants you to realize that this young lady fought for her life everyday during the segregation. Not only did she survive the race wars and the violence but she set out to achieve her dream and to impress the world. The author wants to leave the reader with the fact that Bessie Coleman wasn’t just a damn good pilot, but yet she was the best lady, and African American pilot, the only lady and African American pilot in the air during these times.
I enjoyed the book although I believe for my elementary classroom it might possibly be too much literature. The pictures and illustrations in the book are great yet I wish there were more actual facts in the story about the life of Bessie Coleman. The author does a good job detailing the struggles this young lady had to go through to become exactly who she wanted to be. I believe my 5th grade class would be motivated by her story especially the young ladies.
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LibraryThing member caaats
The book, Talkin’ About Bessie: The story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman, is about the first African-American aviator, Bessie Coleman. The book is written in free verse from many different speakers, which include her father, mother, sister, field hand, flight instructor, news reporter and preacher. Each speaker moves the story in a chronological order and becomes increasingly affective to the last page, where Bessie speaks about her love of flying. This book displays how Bessie overcame her obstacle of poverty, racism, and gender discrimination by keeping her faith in following her dream. This is a great story to help readers understand what it means to push beyond their limits to follow their own dreams.
The book, Talkin’ About Bessie: The story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman, is appropriate for grades 3 and above. One reason it is most appropriate for fluent readers is because the story contains many rich descriptions. For example, the verse on page 2, “The three-room house I built was on a quarter acre bought with back-breakin’ labor and a careful savin’ few colored men could manage, thanks to Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan.” Also, this book would take at least 15-30 minutes to read aloud in a classroom because of the length and amount of text.
Talkin’ About Bessie also contains illustrations that enhance and extend the meaning of the text. The illustrations contain synergy by conveying mood and tone. On the pages with the text, there are miniature portraits of the speaker. This small portrait holds a very large portion of the mood and tone. The small portraits lead us deeper into the story because we are now putting a face to the name and text we are reading. By seeing a small portrait, there is feeling of connection to the story itself and to the person telling the story. The illustrations are full-page, watercolor illustrations and they truly capture each speaker's memories of Bessie. The illustrations help portray moments in Bessie’s life, which is helpful because of the different time and place the story is set in. The illustrations look extremely real and photographic because of the use of such life like colors.
For example, the wood on the wall in the schoolroom illustration is so lifelike that it makes you feel like you are sitting there. Also, the picture of Bessie in the “French-cut pilot’s uniform” is authentic and believable because the picture depicts the high boots, belt, hat, scarf and jacket that were worn in the early 1900’s. Without such detailed and realistic illustrations, children would not get the full sense or feel of the story. By having such lifelike illustrations, it conveys the mood of the entire story.
The illustration of the plane flying above the land, on the last page, is so important to this story. It is important because it really gives you a sense of the peace and joy that Bessie felt when flying in the air in her airplane. To me, this picture also makes me feel like she is still in the air doing what she loves, which is flying.
This is a really wonderful book to use in the classroom. Teachers could use this book in activities by brainstorming what life was like in the 1890's as far as technology, transportation, daily life and social climate. Also, teachers could discuss the Jim Crow laws of the South and hypothesize what an African American girl of that time could be expected to accomplish with her life. Teachers would most likely find this book very good to use for readers theatre in their classroom.

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LibraryThing member conuly
Bessie Coleman. Bessie Coleman. Well, Bessie Coleman, the "Queen of the Air", was the first African-American to obtain a pilot's license, and the first American of any race or gender to get an international pilot's license. (This was necessary because black aviators wouldn't teach a woman, and white flight schools wouldn't take a black student, so what was she to do but go overseas?) And she did it a few years before Earheart as well.

I had picked up another book about her, Nobody Owns the Sky, but that book was so abysmally bad that I gave it away as soon as I could. It's told in a trite, cloying rhyme. Ugh. So I thought I'd try this book instead.

This book is very well-written. You can really get a feel for Bessie's personality, and she's not portrayed as a saintly individual we should all admire because she did everything right. No, she fought to earn every penny as a child picking cotton (even resorting to tampering with the scale if she could get away with it), and she ran away from hard drudgery as fast and as soon as she could, becoming a pilot in part to avoid having to spend any more of her life doing other people's laundry or buffing their nails. She worked hard only as much as she needed to, and not as a goal in and of itself. (And it's just as well. If she'd applied herself to picking cotton or doing laundry instead of learning to fly to get away from that life, well, we would have no book to read.)

The story isn't told straight-out, but through the fictionalized reminiscences of people who might have gathered to talk about her. As such, many of the memories are told in non-standard dialect. I don't know how accurate this dialect is. The author is clear at the front of the book that this story is not made of quotations or interviews, it's just a convenient and inviting way to share her information that she got through research.

The one thing I'm annoyed about with this book is that it's absolutely not suited for any form of read-aloud at all, and I'm still doing that with my nieces. It's too long. However, I expected that when I bought it.
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LibraryThing member reneecomer
This book is an incredible tool to use with high school students to illustrate the ways in which a person can achieve his or her dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem. The different viewpoints add a narrative feel to the book, but also give a unique perspective from several different viewpoints about the trials and success of Bessie Coleman.The illustrations of each individual storyteller bring the different viewpoints and collective story to life.… (more)
LibraryThing member aimtroyer
This is about the first licensed Black American pilot, Elizabeth Colemen. The story is in the form of fiction but it is based on facts. The format of this book is really wonderful because it's done somewhat differently. Each page is written from a different persons point of view.
LibraryThing member saraml
late elementary, middle school, 3starP. This book definitely fits into radical change. The format is unusual in that each chapter is from the point of view of a person who knew Bessie Coleman. Each person talks about a tiny snapshot of her life. The convention is effective -- it's very powerful to experience the life of a person from the point of view of the people who knew them, instead of in a traditional narrative format.… (more)
LibraryThing member sandral
16-0(1) 1896-1926 --anecdotes--juvenil(1) 1896-1926.african american wom(1) african-american(6) airplanes(1) aviation(1) bessie(1) biography(13) black history(4) c.1 c.2(1) children(1) children's(2) children's literature(2) circ(1) coleman(1) coretta scott king award(3) Coretta Scott King Winner(1) female hero(1) flight(1) Flying(1) girls(1) hero(1) History(2) lis 5564(2) MC-African American(1) mrs. smith's class(1) multicultural(1) non-fiction(5) picture book(3) Pilot(3) poetry(1) rc 1(1) rc2(1) school(1) Signed(1) story in verse(1) Week 2(2) women(5)… (more)
LibraryThing member kris0812
This biography of Elizabeth Coleman is told through a series of fictional interviews given by family members, friends, and acquaintances of Bessie. The paintings depict her life from a young child watering roses to a grown woman in full aviator uniform. The settings portrayed in each picture enable the story to come to life and add the detail the text cannot provide. In addition, the small portraits of each interviewee provide the reader with a connection to the speaker. Teaching ideas include: styles of biography, black history, history of flight, companion text to Amelia Earhart books, slavery, separate but equal, civil rights, and motivation to follow dreams.… (more)
LibraryThing member kjarthur
Poetic and multi-perspective stories of an amazing pioneer in the aviation field. The many voices leave you with the sense that you know Bessie by the books end. An encouraging story of tenacity, strength and heart to see you're dreams carried through.
LibraryThing member smirabito
very interesting biography
LibraryThing member child_lit_luv
"Talkin' About Bessie," a young reader's friendly guide to Bessie Coleman's life, is a great choice for a first biography. As the book goes through Coleman's accomplishments, a different character in her life tells a portion of the story, which engages the reader from the very beginning. The beautifully done water color illustrations help to give the reader a visual picture of the time in which Bessie Coleman lived. This book is an excellent choice for a biographical story.… (more)
LibraryThing member jfe16
The inspirational story of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American / Native American to earn her pilot’s license. Bessie, who was eleven when the Wright Brothers made their first flight, went to France to earn her pilot’s license and played a pioneering role for early pilots, inspiring both African-American and Native American peoples.

Innovatively told through a series of monologues, each accompanied by a full-page illustration, the book provides background on Bessie, recounts her accomplishments, and provides Internet resources for further information.

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LibraryThing member christian.mehalic
Talking About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman was a very good book to have chosen. This book did not win a Caldecott Award, but a Coretta Scott King Award, but still a phenomenal book. She was the first African American female pilot, at a time when that was unheard of. The illustrations are extremely delicate looking, and I believe they are watercolor. The story is told through fictitious accounts of real people in her life. A lovely book that can be used well in the classroom.… (more)
LibraryThing member TamaraSmith
This story is told by the people who got the pleasure of knowing Bessie Coleman before she died. Each person tells a bit of her story. She crossed many boundaries and gave hope to make minorities and women in America.This a great for 4-5 grades since it's a bit long. The ppictures help to relay her courageous story.
LibraryThing member ktankers
I read this book to kids that if they are willing to listen good guidance the sky is only the start.
LibraryThing member AleciaDesselle
Talkin' About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman is a inspiring story of a young woman who defied odds to become the first African American female aviator. Elizabeth Coleman spent a great time trying to decide what she would do for her life; she wasn't sure what it would be but she knew it would be great. Once she realized that she wanted to be a pilot, she was determined to accomplish her goals. The structure of this book, told in seperate stories by those who knew and loved Bessie, is a unique one. It allows you to get a real view of this amazing woman.… (more)
LibraryThing member hollyegirard
With this story I would ask the students to write down questions they would have wanted to ask Bessie using the correct punctuation too.
LibraryThing member MaryEttaJ
Friends and family gathered one day to mourn the death of Bessie Coleman. Everyone spoke so positive about Bessie. You can tell she was a great person who tried to help everyone. She also touched everybody in a different, but special way.
LibraryThing member jegammon
Response - I loved learning about beautiful part of American history - the first African-American female pilot. The story is inspirational.

Curricular connection - I would use this book for a unit on civil rights, following passions, and biographies.
LibraryThing member Salsabrarian
The author portrays the life of Elizabeth coleman through poems told by people in Bessie's life: siblings, teacher, mother, aviation instructor and classmates, and black community leaders. Bessie was an independent spirit with can-do strength which led her to become the first black female pilot.
LibraryThing member Kathdavis54
Nikki Grimes found a captivating way to tell the story of Bessie Coleman. Different people in Coleman's life detail what they knew of the aviator in verse. It is more of a personal look at the woman.

This would be a great addition to a unit on Women's history or African American history. It would not give a reader all information they need on Bessie Coleman, but it is a great jumping off point to inspire an essay on the woman.… (more)




(59 ratings; 4.3)
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