Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger have divided up this book about the life of Bessie Coleman into six different
areas. The first, Early Years, describes Bessie's life growing up in Waxahachie, Texas. She enjoyed school
so much that she didn't mind walking "four miles to her one-room schoolhouse and four miles home." Her mother
could not read or write, but made sure that Bessie received books twice a year from the library wagon, she even read the Bible
to her family. Even though she loved school, she had to help when it came time to pick the cotton. "Cotton picking
mattered more to the town than numbers in books," which in turn "meant food on the supper table." Bessie did find satisifaction
in "helping the foreman" with "checking his numbers," wanting to make sure that they were paid their fair share.
In Chicago Years, Bessie moved North, where her brother Walter lived, and searched for a job. She was
hired to work at barbershop. While learning to clip and file nails, she was intrigued by the stories she heard "of French
women who could fly airplanes."
In Off to France, we learn that Bessie took "French classes" before she left in 1920 and "sailed for France"
at the age of twenty-eight. Bessie Coleman proceeded to earn her international flying license within a year.
Back Home in the USA, Bessie returned and started doing air shows for people in New York and around the country.
A Sad Ending for the American people came just shy of Bessie reaching her dream of opening a flying school.
Bessie and fellow mechanic William Willis died on "a test run in the old, shabby plane that Bessie was to use" for a show
the next day. Many people turned out to honor Bessie Coleman and the encouragement that she stood for "You can do something,
too. Keep trying! Fly High!"
Borden and Kroeger do a really great job of making sure that this book is as accurate as possible. They
have included two footnotes, in the book to let the readers know that the university that Bessie attended, to catch-up, "was
the Colored Agricultural and Normal University," and that the first accident Bessie had of "engine failure" in the early 1920s,
"was a common occurrence." Her crash was the fourth in less than a month. They have also included a thank-you section
to Bessie Coleman's niece, Marion Coleman, for talking with them. They also talked to "Doris L. Rich, author of Queen
Bess, Daredevil Aviator," for helping to make sure that their information was accurate. An author's
note is included, at the back, which gives highlights of Bessie's life such as where she was born, that "the prestigious Federation
Aeronautique Internationale" issued Bessie her international license, where she was buried, to the "United States Postal Service"
honoring her with "a commemorative stamp" in 1995.
The organization of the nonfiction picture book is put into six clear and coherent sections that are
easily digestible. The Early Years talks about her years in Texas, while Back Home in the USA talks about her life as
she returns to the United States after getting her flying licenses and surviving her first engine failure accident.
The authors provided no table of contents or index, thought none is needed to make the book
The book has an attractive picture of Bessie Coleman sitting in an airplane on it. Wonderful pictures
using gouache on colored paper complement the story so well. Through the illustrations we see how simple the Coleman
family life was in Texas. Children running around barefoot, in simple plain dresses. The illustrations
all fit the stereotypes: African-American children in plain simple clothes and the Anglo children wearing nice fancy dresses
carrying umbrellas to keep the sun off of them. Then in Chicago, the fashions become more city-like with the men wearing
suits and ties while the ladies are wearing hats.
The style of this book makes it enjoyable. It is written using stanzas, like a poem book, while
using vocabulary that third graders and up can understand. The authors do not use language that "talks down" to the
One issue that is not present in the book, which was heavily present in the early 1920's, was racism.
Bessie Coleman, herself, wanting to learn to fly in a world where only white men flew, must have confronted the issue head
on while learning to fly.
"Bessie Coleman had always been a walker and acounter. Now, as she grew older, Bessie was a dreamer."
"Someday I'll be a pilot, small step by small step."
"She visited dozens of black schools and churches in many states: You can be somebody. You can fly high, just
Borden, Louise and Mary Kay Kroeger. 2001. Fly High! the Story of Bessie Coleman.
Illus. by Teresa Flavin. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. ISBN: 0689824572.