cover image Fly, Bessie, Fly

Fly, Bessie, Fly

Lynn Joseph. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81339-9

Joseph (A Wave in Her Pocket) offers a meaty picture book biography of Bessie Coleman (1896-1926), the first black woman aviator. Much more substantive than Reeve Lindbergh's and Pamela Paparone's Nobody Owns the Sky, also about Coleman, this book opens during her childhood, setting forth the young Bessie's individualism and innate rejection of the racist policies and attitudes of the day. Although Joseph explains that Coleman didn't think about aviation until her brothers returned from WWI and told her about heroic female pilots, the author somewhat heavily foreshadows Coleman's avocation. For example, the child Bessie picks cotton in a Texas field and, daydreaming, ""spreads [her arms] wide like the wings of a brown bird ready to fly""; the bird and flight imagery recur at each pivotal scene. Nevertheless, Joseph vivifies her text with the spirit of an extraordinarily dynamic and determined woman. When no one in the U.S. will teach Bessie to fly, she determines to go to France. She writes a list for herself: ""1. Work hard. 2. Save money. 3. Learn to speak French."" Joseph wisely ends her tale on a high note, as the triumphant aviator soars above the crowd at an air show in 1922. An afterword reveals that Coleman died four years later, in a plane crash caused by a mechanical failure. Buchanan's (Follow the Drinking Gourd) slightly stylized watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations are strong on the characters' expressions, if a little short on motion, but her attention to realistic period details is often undercut by her fanciful palette. Ages 4-8. (Nov.)