Talkin' about Bessie

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by E.B. Lewis
Orchard Books/Scholastic, 2002

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Talkin’ about Bessie

The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman

From the Book

“When it came to knowl­edge, Bessie was a miser,
hoard­ing facts and fig­ures like gold coins she was
sav­ing up to spend on some­thing special…

Still, bright as she was, I wor­ried that her fine mind
would soon be sac­ri­ficed to a life spent pick­ing cotton…

But after each har­vest, she’d return to class.
deter­mined as ever to snatch up and pock­et
every tid­bit of knowl­edge I could offer.
“Teacher,” she’d say, “one day, I’m going
to amount to something…”

from Talkin’ About Bessie: The Sto­ry of Avi­a­tor Eliz­a­beth Cole­man
© 2002 by Nik­ki Grimes

Awards and Recognition

  • Scharr Medal­lion for con­tri­bu­tions pro­mot­ing aviation
  • 2003 Coret­ta Scott King Author Hon­or Book
  • 2003 Coret­ta Scott King Illus­tra­tor Award Winner
  • ALA Notable Book
  • Chil­dren’s Lit­er­a­ture Choice
  • Horn Book Fanfare
  • 100 Titles for Read­ing and Sharing
  • NCTE Notable Chil­dren’s Book in the Lan­guage Arts
  • Book­list Edi­tor’s Choice
  • Book Link’s “Last­ing Connections”


Lis­ten to Nik­ki Grimes read “John Cole­man” from Talkin’ about Bessie:

In case you missed it, the Coret­ta Scott King Task Force hon­ored yours tru­ly with two book awards in 2003, the Author Award for Bronx Mas­quer­ade, and an Author Hon­or for Talkin’ About Bessie.

The pre­sen­ta­tion was made at a break­fast dur­ing the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion Con­fer­ence, held in Toron­to, Cana­da. Do you want to know what I said? Thought you’d nev­er ask! Click here to find out.

Teacher’s Guide

Mul­ti­ple Intel­li­gence Projects

Char­ac­ter Rating

Char­ac­ter Map


  In a vol­ume that looks like a pic­ture book … Grimes offers a many-sided por­trait of the first African-Amer­i­can avi­a­trix, Bessie Cole­man … The speak­ers range from moth­er to sis­ter to field hand to flight instruc­tor to news reporter to preach­er, but teller by teller, the sto­ry moves chrono­log­i­cal­ly and builds emo­tion­al­ly to last entry, where Bessie speaks of the joy of fly­ing … The verse reads aloud beau­ti­ful­ly, mak­ing this book a good choice for read­ers’ the­ater or for read­ing aloud in con­junc­tion with the art­work, which shows up to good advan­tage from a dis­tance. Although there have been oth­er books about Cole­man, this is a fine, orig­i­nal por­tray­al. (Book­list, starred review)

Grimes takes an usu­al, fic­tion­al­ized approach to por­tray­ing this deter­mined, undaunt­ed woman who made avi­a­tion his­to­ry. She reveals recre­ates the voic­es of 20 peo­ple who sup­pos­ed­ly knew Bessie, express­ing their point of view in a free-verse format…The hand­some design, large for­mat, and beau­ti­ful art­work make this very attrac­tive… (Kirkus Reviews)

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