The Tuskegee Airmen challenged the United States Air Force and the larger governing bodies for the right to fly during World War II. Two decades earlier, facing the same discrimination against her race and gender, Bessie Coleman circumvented “the system” altogether by traveling to France and obtaining her international pilot’s license; becoming the first African-American pilot, male or female, in history. This is her story.
Nobody Owns The Sky by Reeve Lindbergh (son of aviator Charles Lindbergh), illustrated by Pamela Paparone, is a light and lovely introduction to the life of “Brave Bessie” Coleman. Born in the state of Texas in 1892 (5 years before Amelia Earhart), Bessie Coleman, “grew up at a time when it was difficult for any woman to become a pilot, but for a black woman it seemed impossible. All the same, Bessie followed her dream…” (Lindberg). Coleman not only returned to the U.S. as an aviator, she became a well-known dare-devil pilot: wowing audiences throughout the country; leaving inspiration in her wake.
At its core, this is a story about pursuing one’s dreams with ”NO EXCUSES!” (as my dear friend would say). It is written in rhyme, and listed by the School Library Journal as appropriate for grades 1-4 (I would list it as PreK-2). For a deeper exploration of Coleman’s life, I have turned to Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger’s Fly High, and have been very satisfied. Broken into sections for my 5 year-old, Fly High fills in many of the gaps in Coleman’s story, giving us a broader understanding of her past, her motivations, and her legacy. The two books together create a wonderful snapshot of “Brave Bessie” Coleman for ages 4-10.
Digging to the Roots – Educational Enrichment Ideas
To see an animated Bessie Coleman clip created by Nick Jr., click here and scroll through the “Black History Videos” menu on the right. The Bessie Coleman video is toward the end of the list.
For the Nick Jr. African-American Dreamers Activity Pack that includes a Bessie Coleman page, click here.
To see Chandra Wilson’s Vimeo on Bessie Coleman that includes photos and live footage, click here.
To utilize the Scholastic Teacher’s Guide for Nobody Owns The Sky, grades K-2, click here. Directions are found below the “Learning Standards” and “Objectives” sections.
Below is a picture of “Brave Bessie” Coleman (click below to enlarge). Have students write captions that guess what Coleman was thinking and feeling at the moment this picture was taken.
The Bessie Coleman stamp was issued on April 17, 1955, in Chicago. It was created by Chris Calle. After viewing (click below to enlarge), ask children to create a stamp of themselves, featuring the contribution they would like to make to the world.