Bessie the Motorcycle Queen

by Charles R Smith (Author) Charlot Kristensen (Illustrator)

Bessie the Motorcycle Queen
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

Hop on the bike with Bessie Stringfield, the motorcycle queen of Miami, in this powerful picture book from Coretta Scott King medalist Charles R. Smith, Jr. and debut picture book illustrator Charlot Kristensen.

The folks they lined up to meet the Motorcycle Queen, seated sidesaddle on her motorbike machine.

In 1929, 18-year-old Bessie Stringfield hopped on her motorcycle and headed out on an adventure, an unusual choice for a young Black woman at the time. Paying her way by winning motorcycle races, she criss-crossed the country through small towns, big cities, and wide open spaces.

But not everyone was happy to see Bessie's brown face peeking out from underneath her helmet. And more than once, Bessie found herself making some quick exits on the back of her bike to escape Jim Crow. A trailblazer in the world of women's racing and motorcycling, Bessie Stringfield was a figure who will inspire all children to pursue their dreams.

From the first line, award-winning author Charles R. Smith Jr.'s poetry evokes emotion, excitement, fear, and wonder in equal measures. Charlot Kristensen portrays Bessie and the American landscape with vivid imagery that is sure to capture the attention of young readers.

A much-needed story about a Black woman who paved the way for future generations, for fans of The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson and My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña.

Kirkus Reviews

A great tale about one bad biker.


 A fast-flying starter biography, this tale of motorcycle queen Bessie Stringfield is ideal for fans of cars, travel, racing, and Black history. . . .Add this book to biography collections and look for ways to put it in the hands of readers interested in motorcycles as well as those seeking to learn about the Jim Crow era through a new lens

School Library Journal

Starred Review

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.--John Scott

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes


Charles R Smith
Charles R. Smith Jr. is an award-winning author, photographer, and poet with over thirty books to his credit. His awards include a Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration (2010) for his photographs accompanying the Langston Hughes poem, My People and a Coretta Scott King Honor Author Award (2008) for his biography on Muhammed Ali, Twelve Rounds to Glory. Many of his books have also garnered reluctant reader awards, proving that kids that don't like to read do like to read his books. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and currently lives in Poughkeepsie, New York. You can find him at
Charlot Kristensen is a Dublin based illustrator, designer, and book author. As a Black artist she often depicts underrepresented characters in empowering ways to help change their narratives. Some of her most renowned clients include HuffPost, Google, Scholastic, Penguin Random House, and the New York Times. You can find her at
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Orchard Books
Publication date
September 20, 2022

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