Touch the Sky

A Story of Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper

Touch the Sky by Ann Malaspina, Illustrations by Eric Velasquez

This read aloud is planned for fifth graders. "Touch the Sky" is about a young girl who has the desire to jump high. Ann Malaspina decided to write this book after being a spectator at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta where she watched Alice Coachman being honored for her achievements. This book has been awarded several awards, including:

2013 Amelia Bloomer list

2013 IRA-CBC Children's Choices

2015 Louisiana Readers' Choice Master List

A 2013 CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

Best Children's Books of the Year 2013, Bank Street College

CCBC Choices 2013

Children's Crown Awards List 2014-2015

2013-2014 Macy's Multicultural Collection of Children's Literature

Author & Illustrator

Ann Malaspina grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She has been writing nonfiction books for children since 1997. Malaspina enjoys writing about social issues, history, and the environment. She began her writing career as a newspaper reporter in Boston and currently resides in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Some of the other popular books that Malaspina has written include Finding Lincoln, Heart on Fire, Phillis Sings Out Freedom, and Yasmin's Hammer.

Eric Velasquez grew up in Harlem, New York. As a child he had an early love for drawing and illustrated his first picture book in 1997. He has recieved some prestigous awards such as the 1999 Coretta Scott King New Talent Award, the 2010 NAACP Image Award, and the 2011 Pura Belpre Award for Illustration. He has illustrated books such as The Piano Man, Grandma's Records, David Gets His Drum, and Jesse Owens: The Fastest Man Alive. He currently resides in Hartsdale, New York.

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Culture & History of the Book

Who is Alice Coachman?

Alice Coachman grew up in Albany, Georgia. She became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. A new Olympic record was set when she cleared the bar that measure 5' 6 1/8." She was the only woman from the Olympic track and field team to win a gold medal at the 1948 Summer Olympics. Alice was a celebrity back Albany after winning. Albany had never honored an African-American citizen until Alice but when she was honored, she noticed that the crowd was still split up between races. After the Olympics, Alice decided to hang up her track shoes and finish her education. She went to Albany State College and became a teacher as well as a coach. Alice married and had two children. In 1996, she was elected into the United State Olympic Hall of Fame. Alice Coachman started the Coachman Track and Field Foundation which celebrates her life and helps young athletes reach their potential.

What was going on in the time of Alice's childhood?

Discrimination and segregation of African-American's was also ocurring among the time when she lived. Alice Coachman was not allowed on fields where practicing high jump was possible because of her race. The story talks about how when she was traveling with her team she encountered white-only restaraunts and restrooms. When she returned home after winning the Olympics, the crowd at her celebration was separated by race.

Discrimination & Segregation

The Jim Crow Laws were in effect from the 1880s until the 1960s. These laws enforced segregation and affected almost every aspect of every day life. Segregation was most common in restaraunts, restrooms, drinking fountains, schools, parks, and buses. African-Americans were to recieve "seperate but equal" treatment under these laws. This never seemed to be the case though. The facilities for African-American's were never equal to the whites. In 1954, the Brown vs. Board of Education case declared that state laws for public schools that were white or black only was unconstituntional. Ten years later in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was put in to place to get rid of discrimination by race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.

Multicultural Evaluation

"Touch the Sky" is a multicultural book because of the criteria it meets. The first criteria it meets is that it invites reflection and response. Alice was not allowed in certain places because of her race, how would you feel if you were not allowed into places because of your race? Students could reflect and respond to this question. The next criteria the book meets is that it portrays cultural accuracy and authenticity of characters. In "Touch the Sky," Alice portrays how African-Americans in her time were treated. The final criteria the book meets is that it has an appealing format and quality. It also meets the accepted criteria for the genre it is included in. The book is very appealing and has great pictures to illustrate Alice Coachman. The book is a biography and it fits in this genre because it talks about Alice Coachman's life.

Instructional Sequence

(1) Behavioral Expectations: (CHAMPS)- Conversation 0/1/3. If you need help, raise your hand. The activity is reading. The movement is none except to the carpet and back. Everybody is to particpate in this activity. The success of this activity is understanding Alice Coachman's success and the vocabulary words.

(2) Have students come to the carpet to begin the read aloud. Begin with asking students, "has anyone ever heard of Alice Coachman?" "Does anyone know what high jump is?" Discuss with students that today they are going to learn who Alice Coachman was and why what she did was important. Also help students understand what high jump is. Tell students that high jump is an event in the sport of track and field.

(3) Begin reading "Touch the Sky" to the students. Ask students the following questions as they are located throughout the story on post it notes.

-Why do you think fields, tracks, and doors shut to girls like Alice? Discuss segregation.

-How would you feel if you weren't allowed to go in certain restaraunts because of your race?

-Alice's dream was to a great high jumper. What are some of your dreams? How can you accomplish those dreams?

(4) After finishing the reading, have students return to their desks. Begin a discussion by asking the students "Does anyone know what the word segregation means?" "What are some examples of segregation that has happened in the United States?"

(5) Discuss with students that segregation is the setting apart or separation of people or things from others or from the main body or group. Help them understand that our country used to have several places that were segregated in the time period between the 1880s and the 1960s. "Segregation during that time period was ocurring all the time. Schools, restaraunts, and buses are just some examples of where people were segregated based on their race."

(6) Tell students that segregation is going to be one of their new vocabulary words. Another new vocabulary word that will be learning about today is proclaim. Ask students, "what does it mean to proclaim?" Tell students "the word proclaim is defined as announcing or declaring in an official or formal manner." Ask student's "what are some examples of things that are proclaimed?" "One example I think of from the book is when the king proclaimed that the Olympic Games were starting."

(7) Hand out the word map activity to the students. Assign half of the class the word segregation and the other half of the class the word proclaim. Tell students they can use a dictionary to complete this assignment if necessary. Using the document camera show students the example. Help students understand what each part of the word map is used for. Tell students they will have only five minutes to get this activity completed and that they need to try to get a least one of the boxes filled for what it is like and one example. Tell students they can work together as long as they are staying on task.

(8) If there is extra time, show the students the video of Alice Coachman jumping at the 1948 Olympics in London on YouTube.

Olympics London 1948 High Jump women ALICE COACHMAN (Amateur footage)


Why was this particular book selected? How did it "match" the funds of knowledge of this particular class/group of students?

I chose this book because several of the students in my class love sports. I also chose this book because it is about a young African-American girl who worked hard to make her dreams of becoming the best high jumper come true. I wanted my students to know that they can accomplish anything they are willing to work hard at. None of the students knew who Alice Coachman was so it was great getting to teach them about someone new.

What were the strengths of the read aloud/ the picture book/ vocabulary teaching presentation?

I think what went well during the read aloud was my interaction with the students while I was reading the book and asking them questions. At the end of the story I asked the students what some of their dreams were and I was able to learn more about my students. I also think I did a good job reading the book while keeping the students engaged.

What would I need to do differently next time?

Next time I will definately give the students more instruction for their vocabulary teaching activities. Because of the time limit I feel like I rushed my self through my lesson. I also would do an activity that is a little more fun for the students.

Implementing multicultural children's literature that is culturally and linguistically diverse relative to my elementary students has ..... helped me realize that students need to experience all cultures. I think that every teacher should show their students that there are so many more cultures out there than the ones they just see everyday. We need to open their eyes and show the students what our world offers.