BESSIE STRINGFIELD by Joel Christian Gill
Kirkus Star


From the "Tales of the Talented Tenth" series, volume 2
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Being the first woman to ride a motorcycle across the United States did not satisfy Bessie Stringfield; she did it eight times!

In a frame narrative to this fascinating biographical tale, a young black woman interviews the elderly Stringfield about her life. Around 1916, Bessie’s father moves his family from Jamaica to Boston, but when he learns of his wife’s terminal illness, he abandons them both. Days later, a white neighbor takes her to an orphanage with kind nuns (the only minor characters from her childhood whose faces readers see). Eventually, the nice white woman who adopts Bessie gives the teen a motorcycle for her birthday—a vehicle Bessie has been dreaming of. Over the years, Bessie travels constantly, marries six times, serves as a civilian motorcycle courier for the military during World War II, becomes a stunt performer in traveling circuses, and earns a nursing degree. Gill uses the graphic format to depict racism creatively and poignantly. He portrays “Old Jim Crow” as flocks of human-sized crows, and the KKK crows wear white sheets (with their beaks sticking through their hoods) as they stage a Georgia cross-burning. When characters call Bessie a racial slur, Gill inserts a rebus into the speech bubble, depicting the head of a stereotypical minstrel figure with nappy hair, dark skin, and huge lips, allowing readers to infer the actual language. Such iconic representations make strong statements that need no words.

An incredible true story that has as much power as Bessie and the motorcycles she rode. (bibliography) (Graphic biography. 10 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-938486-94-4
Page count: 158pp
Publisher: Fulcrum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2016


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