March 19, 2014

Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman

Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden & Mary Kay Kroeger, is the story of Bessie Coleman the first African-American woman to receive a international pilot's license.

Fly High is a wonderful book for children, as it teaches the important lesson that no matter where you come from, you can make something of yourself. Born in 1892 in in Atlanta, Texas, Bessie Coleman was the granddaughter of slaves and grew up working on up on a plantation picking cotton. But Bessie applied herself in school and learned math and worked two jobs so that she could advance beyond an 8th grade education and attend college.

When she was old enough, she left home and attended college, but unfortunately only had enough money to attend one term of college. She wanted a better life than what she had in Texas where she had grown up, so she moved to Chicago, Illinois where her brothers had found employment, and where she hoped to find a job in the big city too. When she got to Chicago, her brothers who had served in World War I, told her about how there were female pilots in Paris who were very popular. She also read about these brave women in the newspapers, including the Chicago Defender. Bessie thought about how exciting it would be to fly planes too, and decided she too would become a pilot!

Bessie got a job in a restaurant and as a manicurist to make money to pay for flying lessons. She also took French language classes to prepare her for her trip to France. At age 28, Bessie boarded a ship and sailed to France where she took flying lessons for a year. She returned home to America where she performed several air shows in New York. She became a star and was well-loved. She would visit African-American schools and encourage children to have goals. She would tell  children "You can do something too! Fly high!"

Because flying a plane was very new at the time, it was very risky and accidents were common. In 1926, 20 days before Bessie was to  fly in a show in Jacksonville, Florida, she crashed during a rehearsal flight and died. Five-thousand people attended her memorial in Jacksonville, Florida. Her formal funeral in Chicago brought 10,000 mourners.

While her death was tragic and untimely, her life is a celebration that women, just like men, can do uncommon and great things, when they put their minds to it. And for the child, boy or girl, who has dreams of becoming a pilot, Bessie Coleman's story is a great story for teaching that lesson.

March 14, 2014

A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women

A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women by Lynne Cheney is a fantastic picture book that tells of the many historical achievements made by women in America. It is a great book to read to young girls and boys alike.

The book begins with Lynne Cheney's introduction that tells how women were not able to vote, own property or have jobs at one time - a fact that is not always taught or emphasized in elementary education, but one that girls should know. Readers are then introduced to Abigail Adams, the wife of second U.S. President, John Adams, and mother to the sixth president, John Quincy Adams. It goes on to tell of over 100 women who made an impact on American history, including Harriet Tubman, Rosie the Riveter, Susan B. Anthony, and Sacagawea. The book does not go into great detail about any one particular woman, instead it describes in brief sentences or one paragraph the achievements of great women in different occupational fields or groups.

For example, when you get to the part of the book for the letter "E",  it describes several educators in American history including Mary Lyon who found Mount Holyoke College, Anne Sullivan, who taught deaf and blind student Helen Keller sign language and to speak, and Mary McLeod Bethune, who found Bethune-Cooke College, a school for African-American girls.

The book also tells of prominent women in math and science in the  "Y is for Roslyn Yalow" section. It tells not only of Yalow, but also of the achievements of other women in science like Barbara McClintock, and other women who won the Nobel Prize in science or mathematical fields.

For young girls who have dreams of doing something that many women may not be well known for doing, this book is great for giving them the confidence and self-esteem to go for their dreams. There are so many admirable and amazing women in this book, it would be hard for a young girl not to dream big after reading it. And because it describes women who came from all walks of life, it can be appreciated by young girls and women of all walks of life today.

March 1, 2014

Dream Big Little Pig! by Kristi Yamaguchi

Poppy is bold!
Poppy is brave!
Poppy is a pig with great big dreams!
And she will steal your heart with her story of determination.

Kristi Yamaguchi scores gold again with this wonderful story of holding on to your dreams and never giving up. Dream Big Little Pig! centers around Poppy, a pot bellied pig whose dream is to become a star. She first tries becoming a ballerina, but that fails miserably because she has no grace. Poppy then tries singing, but she honestly cannot carry a tune, so that doesn't work either. Poppy tries her hand once more, this time with modeling, but she's really quite clumsy, and discovers that modeling is not her calling either.

Throughout Poppy's quest however, she continues to get cheered on by her supportive friends and family - another great theme in the story; children don't give up and succeed when they have a stable network of support. So as Poppy is just about to give up on being a star, she one day passes an ice rink and notices the great time that everyone at the rink is having, and she decides to try skating for herself. She stumbles and falls at first, but then begins to perfect her ice skating, learning twists and turns, delighted at how much she enjoys it.

Poppy even becomes popular in the community because of her great skating skills. Dream Big Little Pig! is a wonderful story that shows children that when they refuse to give up, it is possible to find their true calling. However the story and its wonderful message is perfected by the wonderfully colorful illustrations of Tim Bowers, who brings to life the personality and strong will of Poppy's character.

If you have a child who has big dreams, Dream Big Little Pig! is a must read. After all, what is life without dreams? No one can answer that question better than Poppy, a pot-bellied pig who shows that against all odds you can become whatever you set your mind to be.