Bessie Coleman: Trailblazing Pilot (Rookie Biographies) by Carol Alexander.
Children’s Press, Scholastic, New York, 2016.
Picture book biography/early chapter book, 32 pages.
Lexile: 600L .
AR Level: 3.4 (worth 0.5 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, these are typically used by first and second graders, or read aloud to younger students.
The life of Bessie Coleman, the first female African-American pilot.
Rookie Biographies is a series of books that use photographs and simple text to inform students about the lives of various historical and modern-day figures. This series tends to be perfect for second or third graders to read independently, although I’ve also seen them used with higher or lower elementary school students.
If your school or library has this series, you may be familiar with them having a blue border around the edges, but newer editions have the photos over the entire cover, which is more appealing to students. So far we’ve enjoyed their African American biographies but found the Native American content pretty dismal. I haven’t evaluated any from other groups yet.
For Bessie Coleman, I was curious to see how they would deal with her life, being that the relatively few photographs of her are all in black and white. They do supplement with many photos of other people in her life, or of general times and places she was or similar to what she may have experienced. Text boxes and photo frames are used to add color and liven up the book for young readers.
Each two page spread has either two short paragraphs or one long paragraph. The font is black text on a white background, and it’s nice and big for early readers. Glossary words are in bold. Most photos have captions, but not all.
There are five chapters, but they aren’t numbered. One of the best things about this series is that it combines a typical early chapter book (pictures every page, short chapters and easy text) with elements of picture book biographies. This makes important stories accessible for the youngest readers.
When I was a school librarian, this series was frequently assigned for book reports or when students studied biographies, and I appreciated having African-American books to suggest to students. The captions and occasional text boxes tend to also be kept simple and easy to read.
Like all Rookie Biographies, this book has a timeline, glossary, index, and about the author. This one also has a short poem about Coleman and a section entitled You Can Follow Your Dreams. I appreciated the normal extras, but felt the last two could have been left out.
I’ll be reviewing books from this individually as I can, because the quality definitely varies. This particular volume is one I feel confident recommending to teachers and librarians.