A young black girl overcomes prejudice and financial barriers to become a successful ballerina and teacher in this picture book based on a true story.
Sylvia Townsend hears her parents’ music—jazz and symphonies—and she rises “to my toes, ready to fly.” She sees Swan Lake on television and decides she must learn ballet—but her supportive parents can’t pay for lessons. When a bookmobile comes to town, books about ballet become her teachers. She learns well, even teaching other girls in her neighborhood. When her fourth grade teacher sees the talented girl dance, she offers to pay for lessons, but three different schools turn Sylvia away. Only one “let[s] the real reason slip—ballet is for white girls.” Sylvia is disheartened—but her pupils still want lessons. At a school talent show, Sylvia’s skill leads to a connection to a Russian ballet teacher. After a successful audition, Sylvia earns a free place in her school. On the final spread, an adult Sylvia teaches a multiethnic room full of children at Sylvia’s School of Dance. Lyon and LaFaye have co-authored a standout text that centers action in this triumphant story. Gibson’s full-color illustrations use patterns, textures, and expressive facial features to show a loving family, a vibrant community, and a talented girl who becomes an accomplished woman. Townsend contributes a brief introduction, and backmatter elaborates on her life and on the history of the bookmobile.
Engaging and inspiring, this brief introduction is also fun to read. (notes, references, further reading) (Picture book. 3-8)