Bessie the Motorcycle Queen

Orchard. Sept. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338752472.
K-Gr 3–A Black woman whose early 20th-century adventures seem right out of a tall tale (though supported with substantial back matter and a bibliography to help readers find out what is true and where poetic license was used) zooms across the pages of this appealing picture book biography. Born in the 1910s (sources don’t agree on the exact year), Bessie was a free-spirited African American female motorcycle racer and adventurer. She let a penny flip determine her path across America; that could take her to places where it was dangerous for a young Black woman to be on her own. Facing Jim Crow, the Klan, and segregation, Bessie pursued a life lived on her own terms thanks to her skill with a motorcycle and an indomitable spirit. The author does not dwell on the danger nor downplay it, and it’s not theoretical: drivers use their cars to try to hit Bessie; people in white sheets barrel down on her; one page is titled “Races vs. Racists”; sometimes, Bessie wins but leaves behind her prize and the “angry [white] faces.” The illustrations and text are full of energy and make for a highly engaging class read-aloud. The back matter adds details to the life of this legendary American woman whose bravery and tenacity deserve to be known.
VERDICT Use this title to add some VROOM to a class discussion about American history, strong characters, brave women, and notable African Americans.

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