cover image Fly High! the Story of Bessie Coleman

Fly High! the Story of Bessie Coleman

Louise Borden, Mary Kay Kroeger. Margaret K. McElderry Books, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82457-9

Written for an older audience than aimed for in either Lynn Joseph's Fly, Bessie, Fly or Reeve Lindbergh's Nobody Owns the Sky!: The Story of `Brave Bessie' Coleman, this informative and insightful picture-book biography of the African-American aviator merits attention. Borden and Kroeger, co-authors of Paperboy, stress the adversities of Bessie Coleman's childhood in rural Texas at the turn of the 20th century and emphasize her extraordinary perseverance. As a girl, Bessie struggles to get an education, even when she must pick cotton instead of attending school; later, at 18, Bessie enrolls in ""catch-up classes"" and is placed in sixth grade at a private college, but her money runs out after only one term. Undefeated in her determination to become ""somebody,"" Bessie eventually moves to Chicago in 1915 and, later, learns of French women who piloted planes during WWI. From that point on, Bessie resolves to fly; when no American pilots agree to teach her, she saves up money and enrolls at a school in France, becoming the first African-American to earn a pilot's license. At once breezy and grounded, the rhythmic text is arranged in short, verse-like lines, which should encourage reluctant readers to climb on board. Flavin's (Pushing Up the Sky) pebbly gouaches are atmospheric if a bit stiff, capitalizing on Borden and Kroeger's optimism. A flight well worth taking. Ages 9-12. (Jan.)