Fearless Heart: An Illustrated Biography of Surya Bonaly

by Frank Murphy (Author) Anastasia Magloire Williams (Illustrator)

Fearless Heart: An Illustrated Biography of Surya Bonaly
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

A vibrant picture book biography of Surya Bonaly, the figure skating champion who backflipped her way into history.

As a young girl in France, Surya Bonaly was constantly in motion, gifted in any sport she tried. But it was figure skating that had her heart. Surya knew she belonged on the ice. Her colorful costumes, exuberant routines, powerful jumps, and daring combinations were all expressions of her love for skating and her ambition to push the boundaries of what a figure skating champion could look like. Some people weren't sure Surya belonged on top of the podium. "Is she graceful enough?" they asked. "Does she look like a skater?" But Surya's fearless heart propelled her to always stay true to herself while pursuing her boldest dreams. Culminating in her iconic backflip performed at the 1998 Olympics, Fearless Heart is a lushly illustrated, lyrical story of self-expression and courage.

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School Library Journal

K-Gr 3—This illustrated biography of French figure skater Surya Bonaly is told in poems ("Her Dawn," "Her Dream," "Her Rise," etc.), with artwork as vibrant and glittery as an Olympic routine. Bonaly, who is Black, was adopted and renamed by white parents at 18 months. She showed early talent as a figure skater and worked hard to become the French champion and European champion. However, at the highest levels, it seemed, "The judges didn't want a/ Black figure skater,/ skating the way she wanted./ And, maybe,/ they didn't want a/ Black figure skater/ at all." Refusing to accept second place, Bonaly learned to skate how the judges wanted, but ended her Olympic career by landing a defiant backflip on one skate, a move that has not been attempted before or since. Perhaps due to the poetic nature of the text, some details are unclear, although back matter includes more, along with photographs. Williams's painterly digital art infuses the dynamism of live figure skating into the spreads; she shows Bonaly in a variety of athletic poses, including her trademark backflip, and wearing different costumes, hairstyles, and makeup. Certain active words in the text are accentuated for their meaning and contribute to the sense of movement the illustrations create. VERDICT A tad uneven, but with standout illustrations; a good choice for libraries where books about groundbreaking athletes such as Raven Wilkinson (Leda Shubert's Trailblazer) and Misty Copeland (her own Firebird) are popular.—Jenny Arch

School Library Journal
Frank Murphy
Surya Bonaly is a retired figure skater. She is a three-time World silver medalist, a five-time European champion, and a nine-time French national champion. Bonaly lives in Las Vegas, NV, where she is a coach.

Frank Murphy is a writer and teacher. He is the author of A Boy Like You, A Girl Like You, and A Teacher Like You, in addition to many historical biographies for early readers.

Anastasia Magloire Williams is an illustrator and graphic designer based in Atlanta.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Triumph Books (IL)
Publication date
January 20, 2022
BISAC categories
JNF007050 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Cultural Heritage
JNF053140 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Social Topics | Prejudice & Racism
JNF042000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Poetry | General
JNF007120 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Women
JNF038060 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | Europe
JNF007100 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Sports & Recreation
JNF054110 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Sports & Recreation | Olympics
JNF053160 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Social Topics | Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance
JNF054190 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Sports & Recreation | Ice Skating
JNF069000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Diversity & Multicultural
Library of Congress categories

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