Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper

by Ann Malaspina (Author) Eric Velasquez (Illustrator)

Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

"Bare feet shouldn't fly. Long legs shouldn't spin. Braids shouldn't flap in the wind. 'Sit on the porch and be a lady, ' Papa scolded Alice."

In Alice's Georgia hometown, there was no track where an African-American girl could practice, so she made her own crossbar with sticks and rags. With the support of her coach, friends, and community, Alice started to win medals. Her dream to compete at the Olympics came true in 1948. This is an inspiring free-verse story of the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Photos of Alice Coachman are also included.

Select format:

Publishers Weekly

As a girl, Alice Coachman drew attention in her small Georgia town for her high-jumping skills, even though she used an improvised crossbar made of sticks and rags. After impressing the coach for the Tuskegee Golden Tigerettes and playing with the all-female track team, Coachman set an Olympic trials record and went on to compete at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, becoming the first African-American woman to win gold. Velasquez's majestic, thickly painted oils portray Coachman (b. 1923) with a quiet serenity and assurance, as Malaspina, writing in verse, conveys the magnitude of her accomplishments with agility and lyricism: "As she climbed to the top/ of the winners' stand,/ the crowd rose/ for the bare-feet flying,/ long-legs spinning,/ moon jumper from Georgia." Appended materials include several b&w photographs and biographical details about Coachman's later life. Ages 6-9. (Jan.)

Copyright 2012 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

K-Gr 3--With oil paintings crafted from photographs, Velasquez captures the unconventional style of Alice Coachman's high jumps in this picture-book biography of the first African American woman to win an Olympic Gold. Free-verse text focuses on details such as the athlete's tendency to suck lemons during competitions: "the lemon made her feel lightning-fast, /feather-light, moon-jumping strong." Full-bleed images with inset text appear on almost every spread. One shows Coachman as a young girl jumping a twisted cloth strung between two trees while a man comments to her mother that she's likely to jump over the Moon one day. Her mother's response is not included, but her posture conveys her attitude. It was not her parents who encouraged her, though, but teachers who recognized her talent and offered opportunities for her to train and compete. Readers are likely to empathize with this tomboy who loved to run, jump, and play sports with the boys despite her father's admonitions that she "sit on the porch and/be a lady." This book does not emphasize Coachman's racial experiences except for a brief list of issues the Tuskegee Golden Tigerettes faced traveling in the South. An author's note mentions a reception in her hometown where well-wishers were divided by race. Four black-and-white photos of Coachman and a close-up of her medal are included. This is not a resource for reports, but it is an inspiring introduction to an obscure athlete.--Janet S. Thompson, Chicago Public Library

Copyright 2012 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Ann Malaspina
Even as a child, Ann Malaspina liked to write stories. Ann has written numerous books for young people including Finding Lincoln and Phillis Sings Out Freedom. Ann lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Eric Velasquez, the son of Afro-Puerto Rican parents, was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in Harlem in New York City. As a child, his love for doodling and drawing was strongly encouraged by his mother. From his grandmother he inherited a love of music and from his father he developed a love of movies. Growing up in this setting, Eric says, "Becoming an artist was a natural choice for me. I have never thought of being anything else." http: //
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Albert Whitman & Company
Publication date
January 20, 2012
BISAC categories
JNF007050 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Cultural Heritage
JNF007120 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Women
JNF007100 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Sports & Recreation
JNF054110 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Sports & Recreation | Olympics
Library of Congress categories
United States
Track and field athletes
Coachman, Alice
African American women athletes
Louisiana Young Readers' Choice Award
Nominee 2015 - 2015
South Carolina Childrens, Junior and Young Adult Book Award
Nominee 2014 - 2015

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!