cover image Bessie the Motorcycle Queen

Bessie the Motorcycle Queen

Charles R. Smith Jr., illus. by Charlot Kristensen. Orchard, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-338-75247-2

Smith kicks off this onomatopoeic picture book biography of “Motorcycle Queen” Bessie Stringfield (1911–1993) with a dazzling series of motorcycle stunts, and a white-presenting crowd asking questions about the Black stuntwoman’s background: “Bessie told her story again and again.” Having taught herself to ride a motorcycle at the age of 16, Stringfield leaves Boston behind at 19. With a map for direction and a flipped penny as her guide, she travels Jim Crow–era America, relying “on word of mouth/ for where to get gas,/ where to sleep for the night,” racing her motorcycle to earn money, and outriding racist people who would do her harm (“wearing white sheets/ here they come/ here they come”). In mythologizing prose, Smith compiles the uncertain details of Stringfield’s life story into a digestible tale of a Black woman who lived on her own terms. Kristensen’s lively unlined illustrations emphasize bright landscapes and images of the figure on her bike. Back matter includes an author’s note. Ages 6–8. (Sept.)