One of my favorite children’s books is “The Story of ‘Brave Bessie’ Coleman Nobody Owns the Sky” by Reeve Lindbergh. In addition to the inspiring story about Bessie Coleman, the illustrations by Pamela Paparone are absolutely marvelous. Bessie Coleman was “the first licensed black aviator in the world.” In this book, the author takes the reader on a journey from Bessie’s childhood in Texas to part of her journey that ended with her life as a stunt pilot and lecturer.
When I read this story to children, I always point out that Bessie Coleman had a dream that took her outside of her neighborhood. I encourage children to dream outside their blocks, outside their neighborhood. I want them to believe that they too can be the first to do something that nobody else they know has done. I tell them of my father being the first person in his family to go to college.
Additionally, the reader sees Bessie Coleman work hard in the cotton fields as a child to help her family earn money. We also learn that she worked in a barber shop to earn money to pay for pilot training. My husband brought me some cotton from
a trip he made down south. I take the cotton to classrooms so that kids can touch and feel the cotton. We talk about the seeds in the puff of cotton and the prickly nature of the plant. We discuss what it must be like for a child to pick enough cotton to fill a burlap sack in the hot Texas sun. Suddenly, kids don’t think being asked to clean their rooms is a big deal.
The discussion about the state of Texas makes for a great opportunity to talk about the climate in the southern United States and its proximity to the equator. I am always so excited when kids can tell me about the equator and the heat. It is great to see the kids make the connection that picking cotton was not fun or easy. I love to see the kids go through the mental process of realizing that real cotton is not a cotton ball from a bag.
The first illustration and the last one are aerial views which emphasize her goal of flying high and being a champion of dreaming. I have the kids practice saying aerial view a couple of times then we talk about what that means exactly. We talk about when they might see aerial views. The kids usually remember seeing aerial views during sporting events on television or when they have been passengers in a plane. They think it’s really cool to learn a new phrase. I always tell them to teach their families this fancy phrase the next time they watch a parade or sporting event together and a view of the city or the stadium is shown from above.
I enjoy reading this book aloud because of the rhyming words. The words bounce from the bright, colorful pages. I love that Bessie Coleman encouraged people to dream and work hard to realize their dreams. I love that her life story furthers her passion to help people soar to heights that seem unattainable. Her story teaches us that dreams and hard work can lead to greatness even if there are folks saying your goals can’t be reached.