Two new titles share the story of Alice Coachman, the first African-American woman to win Olympic gold. Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper is written by Ann Malaspina and illustrated by Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner Eric Velasquez. Alice’s story is told in free-verse poetry and vibrant oil paintings created from photographs. Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion by Heather Lang offers more detailed descriptions of Alice’s childhood and is complemented by the sepia-tone oil illustrations of Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Floyd Cooper.
Alice grew up in segregated Albany, Georgia in the 1930s. She was the daughter of a poor cotton farmer and loved running and playing basketball. She created her own high jump with a crossbar made of branches and rags. Despite her father’s warnings that her tomboyish behavior wasn’t ladylike, Alice grew faster and stronger and was soon a star high school athlete. She was recruited by the Tuskegee Institute to join the Tigerettes as a high jumper where she achieved great success as an athlete and student.
Though she was at her best in 1944, the Olympics were cancelled because of World War II. Alice wasn’t discouraged, and continued training for the next four years. In 1948, the United States’ women’s track team was medal-less when the high jump, the last event of the day, started. Despite the pressure, Alice faced the challenge head on and not only won the gold, but also set a new Olypmic record.
Archival photographs, authors’ notes, and added information at the end of both of these books allow the reader to further investigate this remarkable life story. As the summer Olympics return to London for the first time since Coachman’s victory, these titles are especially timely and inspirational.