Ice Breaker: How Mabel Fairbanks Changed Figure Skating

Albert Whitman. Oct. 2019. 32p. (She Made History). glossary. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807534960.
PreS-Gr 2–As a young black girl skating in the 1930s, Mabel Fairbanks was denied entry to skating clubs and competitions. After years of touring in the ice-skating entertainment industry, Fairbanks became a coach to skaters of diverse racial and financial backgrounds. She fought for her students of color to be allowed entry into the clubs and competitions that previously denied her inclusion. Fairbanks finally gained recognition and became the first African American inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. While Fairbanks’s tale deserves telling, this title falls flat. The organization is at times choppy, particularly at the beginning, where the narrative shows Fairbanks transitioning from a homeless child to working as a live-in babysitter in just two page spreads. Considering the intended young audience, some passages include too much detail and too few clear transitions. The muted cartoonish style of the digital illustrations is designed to appeal to young readers, but the lack of clean lines and dynamic elements results in an unfinished look.
VERDICT Although this biography is a lackluster account, Mabel Fairbanks is an inspiring subject whose story is likely to appeal to many young people. Her story of perseverance and activism is little known, so many libraries will want this picture book biography on their shelves simply to acknowledge the overlooked contributions of an inspiring black woman and athlete.

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