Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman

Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman

Nikki Grimes
Illustrator:  Earl B. Lewis 
Picture Book
For ages 8 and up
Scholastic, 2002   ISBN: 978-0439352437

One of the most remarkable women aviators in gone and her friends and family are all together mourning her loss and celebrating her life and the joy that they experienced in knowing her. We hear their words as each one speaks about Bessie, lady of the skies who dared to break the rules and show the world that a black woman could do anything she put her mind to.

The author has done a masterful job of recreating the "voices" of all the people present at Bessie’s last goodbye. There are different accents, different tones, different personalities for each one and with E.B. Lewis’s evocative paintings it is as if we are transported back in time to the times in Bessie’s life that are described by the speakers. We see her as the little girl reading the bible to her illiterate mother; we are with her as she cuts her hands picking cotton; we are there when she is doing mounds of laundry to help support her family and to pay for her education; and we are there when a fan describes what it was like to watch Bessie fly her plane making it do "spirals and fancy flips."

Perhaps best of all we get to hear Bessie’s own voice as she describes the very first time she flew and how flying made her feel. With lyrical and almost magical text we are taken up into the clouds with Bessie and her loss does not seem so sad as we read about the joy that she experienced in her life and the joy too that she had in making the world see that a black woman had something to offer the world.