“An inspiring biography of Sylvia Townsend, who learned ballet in books borrowed from a bookmobile.”
Exciting, tender, heartbreaking, and inspiring moments are on the program for readers of this picture book biography of Sylvia Townsend. When her mom’s symphonies and her dad’s jazz play, young Sylvia can’t keep her feet from dancing along with the beat. When she learns ballet lessons are too expensive for her financially strapped family, she resourcefully creates her own tutu and ballet slippers from household materials. Even more remarkable, she teaches herself ballet from books made available to her by the caring librarian of a bookmobile that coincidentally arrives in town the same spring. She constructs her own barre and studies the pages of books to learn positions and steps. When a thoughtful school teacher offers to pay for her lessons, Sylvia is emotionally crushed to learn that some consider ballet only for white people. “Those words pluck the feathers from my wings.” However, when she realizes her friends still need help, she becomes their teacher. Her kindness leads to her being discovered by Russian ballet instructor Alexandra Sawicka, who, after watching her dance and knowing she has never had a lesson, remarks, “Well, you’re a beautiful dancer.” Sylvia is invited to attend Mme. Sawicka’s ballet school, propelling her along her remarkable path to becoming both a ballerina and in turn a ballet instructor. Lyon and LaFaye craft a biography excellent for a picture book: it is engaging and easy to read while still being informative. Gibson’s digital illustrations have a youthful feel and a sense of motion that excellently fit the history.
An inspiring picture book for little ballerinas everywhere!
Ready to Fly is the true story of Sylvia Townsend, an African American girl who falls in love with ballet after seeing Swan Lake on TV.
Although there aren’t many ballet schools that will accept a girl like Sylvia in the 1950s, her local bookmobile provides another possibility. A librarian helps Sylvia find a book about ballet and the determined seven-year-old, with the help of her new books, starts teaching herself the basics of classical ballet.
Soon Sylvia learns how to fly—how to dance—and how to dare to dream.
Lyrical, easy-to-read, and affecting text paired with bright, appealing illustrations make Ready to Fly perfect for aspiring ballerinas everywhere who are ready to leap and to spread their wings.
Includes a foreword from Sylvia Townsend, a brief history of the bookmobile, an author’s note, and a further reading list.
When Sylvia’s family cannot afford dance lessons, she starts to teach herself ballet from borrowed books. In what ways can you follow her inspiring example?
Sylvia is nervous at her dance audition, but she dances anyway and earns the praise of her teacher. How can you bravely move forward toward a goal, even when you feel nervous or scared about it?
Jessica Gibson is a mostly self-taught freelance illustrator who graduated from Wayne County Community College with an associate of arts degree. Though she primarily illustrates children’s books, Jessica also creates artwork for magazines and has an interest in character design. With a pen and tablet by her side, she loves creating adorable, whimsical, and sometimes quirky illustrations, ready to brighten up everyone’s heart. You can visit her at www.jessicamgibson.com.
For Sylvia, who was kind enough to share her story with me, and for my dear friend Mary Ann, who introduced me to the amazing bookmobile ballerina.
For Regan: Know your own worth, celebrate your gifts, spread your wings, and fly!
To my loving, supportive family, especially my mother, who always believed in my creative talent.
“She makes her way to the bookmobile, requests ballet books, and trains herself: ‘At home, I begin reading, building my own barre, learning the positions . . .’”
“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.”