Bessie the Motorcycle Queen by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illustrated by Charlot Kristensen

Published by Orchard Books

Summary:  A daredevil motorcycle rider named Bessie takes the challenge to ride the Wall of Death, fearlessly showing off with no hands and riding sidesaddle.  When she takes off her helmet, the audience is surprised by her “hidden brown face.”  The year is 1929, and a Black woman riding her motorcycle alone across the country faces potentially dangerous situations, especially in the Jim Crow south, where she outruns a truck full of angry KKK members.  But Bessie is undeterred, choosing her destinations by flipping a penny onto a US map, repairing her bike herself, and sleeping on it when she can’t get a room.  The word VROOM is repeated throughout the story as Bessie zooms off to her next location.  Includes additional information about Bessie Stringfield and a bibliography.  40 pages; ages 1-4.

Pros:  The bouncy rhyming text and beautiful illustrations tell an inspiring story about this little-known woman. Although kids may need some explanations about Jim Crow laws and the KKK, this would be a good Black history read-aloud for primary grades.

Cons:  Unfortunately, not much is known about Bessie, so facts about her life like her birthdate and hometown are uncertain.


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