Mabel Fairbanks is not found in textbooks, but she made history as the first African American inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
As the book opens, young Mabel is orphaned and homeless in New York City. Taken in by a white family, she provides child care in exchange for shelter. Looking out the apartment window at skaters in the park, she’s inspired to save up for skates, and two successive double-page spreads show the excitement and joy Mabel finds on the ice. Subsequent pages reveal that the story takes place in the 1930s, and the phrases “colored are not allowed” and “WHITES ONLY” underscore the segregation of the era. Ultimately a sympathetic rink manager lets her in, and her talent is quickly noticed—but she still can’t compete. She continues to work and train hard, her dedication paying off when she’s able to showcase her skills in a Harlem nightclub and eventually make her way to Hollywood for a TV show and then to international performances in a supporting role. Unfortunately, her talent doesn’t surpass the racism of the time, but as a coach, Mabel promotes change by encouraging her students of diverse backgrounds and advocating for them. The text does an adequate job of portraying both the racism and her determination, but readers will wonder at gaps in the timeline. Almon’s bright, cheery illustrations belie the challenges Mabel faced.
An important figure; a pedestrian introduction. (Picture book. 4-8)