Ready To Fly: How Sylvia Townsend Became the Bookmobile Ballerina

HarperCollins/Harper. Jan. 2020. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062888785.
K-Gr 3–Sylvia Townsend grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s amid intense racial division. Inspired by a television performance of Swan Lake, she started to practice ballet with a homemade tutu, slippers, and barre. Townsend’s family couldn’t afford lessons but lovingly encouraged her dreams. When a bookmobile came to her neighborhood, she gathered the ballet books to study. Townsend began to give lessons to neighborhood kids who were eager to become dancers. Eventually, a school teacher recognized Townsend’s talent and offered to pay for lessons. Unfortunately, schools refused to accept Townsend because she was black. At a school talent show performance, a classmate’s father suggested she audition for a Russian ballet teacher named Madame Sawicka. Sawicka awarded Townsend with a dance scholarship. Townsend eventually opened her own dance school. Rhythmic prose, with active verbs like jive, sway, soar, and float, convey movement and draw readers into Townsend’s purposeful but joyful practice sessions. Gibson’s illustrations of Townsend’s early family life and dance practices express hope, wonder, and disappointment. The horizontal compositions have flowing, rounded lines and convey the perspective of a child.
VERDICT This picture book biography of self-taught ballerina Sylvia Townsend is a tale of ambition and perseverance. A satisfying addition to nonfiction collections for younger readers.

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