As a child, my two favorite things were ballet and books so I am excited to discover a book that combines both. Best of all, it is the true story of a dancer who inspires others to persist in fulfilling their dreams.
Ready to Fly: How Sylvia Townsend Became the Bookmobile Ballerina
By Lea Lyon and A.LaFaye (authors) and Jessica Gibson (illustrator)
Nonfiction picture book biography for grades k-4
Themes: Ballet, Bookmobiles, determination, overcoming discrimination
The story begins:
Born with the beat in my feet, I jive to Daddy’s jazz and sway to Mama’s symphonies.
As musical notes start to float, I rise to my toes, ready to fly.
As a child growing up in the 1950s, Sylvia Townsend loved to join her parents as they danced and she was fascinated by the ballet dancers she saw dancing Swan Lake on their black and white television. She asked to take lessons but the family didn’t have the money to pay. Undaunted, Sylvia made her own tutu and slippers but her first dance steps just weren’t right.
Fortunately, the bookmobile came to their neighborhood and the librarian helped her to find instruction books. Sylvia made her own barre and with the help of the books she learned ballet positions. Before long, she was able to leap and twirl. She even began teaching the other neighborhood children how to dance.
Her fourth-grade teacher recognized Sylvia’s ability and offered to pay for lessons but none of the school’s would allow her to attend. They said they were too full but the real reason was that they didn’t think that ballet was for African American girls.
Discouraged, Sylvia almost gave up but she realized that she’d be letting her friends down. Together they practiced and perfected a dance that they presented on stage at school. This led to Sylvia meeting a famous Russian dancer who offered her a spot in her school where Sylvia truly began to fly.
Ready to Fly: How Sylvia Townsend Became the Bookmobile Ballerina is a standout for so many reasons-
- Sylvia realized her dreams with grit, determination, and creativity. I love that she made her own ballet costume and barre.
- The topic of discrimination is handled with sensitivity in a way that children will understand and realize how unfairly Sylvia was treated.
- The book’s language is expressive and lyrical. Words like pirouette, arabesque, and sashay are fun to say and read.
- The art is bright and expressive and shows true diversity in its characters.
- Sylvia’s parents, the librarian, her teacher, and the Russian dancer believed in her and encouraged her to pursue her dreams. I wish every child could have such supportive mentors.
- There is an inspiring forward written by Sylvia Townsend encouraging parents to help their children become the best they can be.
- The afterword continues Sylvia’s story as she went on to become a dancer and opened a dance studio where she has mentored dancers for the past forty years, many of whom have gone on to successful careers.
- A brief history of bookmobiles as well as references and books for further reading are also included.
This will be a wonderful addition to home, school, and public libraries. Share it with children who have big dreams.
Enjoy this short video celebrating the Dance Theater of Harlem. (Sylvia Townsend’s son danced for this amazing company.)
This will be a great addition to home, public, and school libraries.
If you are interested, here is a post I wrote about bookmobiles.