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Talkin' about Bessie

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About the Author

E. B. Lewis Won a Caldecott Honor for COMING ON HOME SOON by Jacqueline Woodson. He has also won the Coretta Scott King Award and Coretta Scott King Honor three times. He graduated from Temple University's Tyler School of Art and now teaches at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Mr Lewis lives in Folsom, New Jersey. Visit to learn more.


Grimes skillfully employs first-person testimonial verse to give young readers a fully realized portrait of African-American aviator Bessie Coleman. At Coleman's death, Grimes invites twenty individuals to a fictionalized wake and, in valedictory monologues, has each remember Bessie and the forces that shaped her life. Bessie's father tells about leaving the family when his daughter was "jus' a chile." Her mother recalls how she wanted Bessie to "first learn the wisdom of the Lawd, / and then, the wisdom of the world"; an older brother comments on her drive, how she "kept her focus find a lifelong work of substance"; her flight instructor remembers how bravely Bessie flew a Nieuport 82 the day after witnessing one crash to the ground in flames; and a young fan reveres her idol: "I haven't made up my mind about being a pilot, / but Bessie made me believe I could be anything." E. B. Lewis personalizes the tributes (and a concluding testimonial from Bessie) with small photo-like, sepia-toned portraits of the speakers. Impressionistic watercolors on facing pages evoke each incident and often soften the harshness in Coleman's life. Taken as a whole, these illustrations portray a young woman yearning for and taking pride in that "lifelong work of substance." Although the assemblage of mourners is slightly contrived (would a field hand Coleman once worked alongside and a woman who once hired her to do laundry really be present at her wake?), their parts in Bessie's story are integral to her early life. Grimes separates fact from fiction through introductory comments on the historical period and the setting, concluding observations about Coleman, and source notes. Like Bessie, this tribute to her life soars.--Horn Book, January 1, 2003--starred review 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 Afric

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