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Talkin' About Bessie

by Nikki Grimes

Publishers Weekly :
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Historic flights take the spotlight in two fall titles. Talkin' About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman by Nikki Grimes, illus. by E.B. Lewis, recalls the life of the world's first licensed African-American female pilot through 20 eulogies, fictionalized perspectives based on actual people. "I remember that bone-chillin' January day in 1892/ when Bessie's first cry raised the roof/ off that dirt-floor cabin, back in Texas," Bessie's father, George Coleman, begins. Newspaper editor Robert Abbott tells of her enrollment in a French flight school ("No flight school/ in our color-minded nation/ would accept a woman, or a Negro"). Lewis's elegant inset portraits appear alongside the words of each speaker; full-bleed, full-page paintings illustrate dramatic moments in Coleman's life.

Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

School Library Journal :
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Gr 3-8-This fresh contribution to the spate of relatively recent titles about Coleman has a decidedly unique tone. Talkin' is a well-conceived, well-executed, handsomely illustrated, fictionalized account of the life of the first black female licensed pilot in the world (CIP places the book in the 600s). An introductory note puts the aviatrix in historical context, but neglects to explain some references (e.g., Jim Crow laws). The text consists of 21 poetic vignettes of Coleman delivered by "speakers" at a funeral parlor, all of whom have come to mourn the pilot who died at age 34 in a plane accident. Their reminiscences on stark white pages are illustrated with miniature portraits bordered in sepia, each one facing a full-page watercolor capturing a moment in the woman's life. Skillfully drawn and occasionally photographic in their realism, the pictures perfectly match each speaker's recollections. A concluding note states rather definitively in regard to her death: "The cause of the crash remains a mystery" despite some evidence to the contrary. No sources are listed. While fictional, this is a fine piece to use to set a tone or inspire more research into Coleman's life. It could also serve as an exceptional writing model for students. The concept, much like Marilyn Nelson's Carver: A Life in Poems (Front Street, 2001), is noteworthy.-Harriett Fargnoli, Great Neck Library, NY

Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.



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