Author shares real-life story of girl who fought racism and won

By Cathi Douglas

It’s wonderful to read about a heroine who changes the world – and especially memorable when the woman is a real person.

Perhaps best of all is learning about this historic figure from the author who wrote the book.

Rose Viña, author of the award-winning new picture book, “Ice Breaker: How Mabel Fairbanks Changed Figure Skating,” shared the inspirational story of a resilient young Black girl who dreams of becoming an ice-skater and succeeds despite facing racial discrimination, poverty, and a tragic childhood.

In a virtual video call sponsored during Women’s History Month by the Newhart Middle School PTA, the Cuban American writer from California not only described Fairbanks’s life and career, but shared her insights on research, writing, and publishing. After she spoke, the students asked questions and learned more about the processes of writing and editing, as well as the true story of Mabel Fairbanks, who became a successful ice skater and coach.

The presentation was the brainchild of Principal Judith Murphine, who knew Viña from Aliso Viejo Ice Palace, where her husband skates. Murphine fell in love with the book, immediately recognizing that Viña would be an excellent role model for her students.

“Rose is a great person,” observes Murphine, who arranged for the video call from Viña’s current home in Sweden. “She provided the students with great messages of personal strength and how we have the strength deep inside us to overcome the obstacles we confront in life.”

Viña described a positive role model who overcome obstacles through resiliency and hard work and noted that Newhart students also are persevering through the difficulties wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. She told them they have Mabel Fairbanks’s inner strength and should be commended.

Not only does Fairbanks’s life story address Black history but the story also helps students see both a subject and an author from diverse backgrounds.

“We have different ethnic and social backgrounds, but we are all human beings,” Murphine notes. “We hurt the same way and have the same aspirations. We can all make a difference in our worlds.”

Because Newhart has a two-way immersion and Mandarin program, Murphine says she next wants to bring in an Asian American author so students can experience another cultural perspective.

Michelle Wendehost, who teaches eighth-grade English and sixth-grade Spanish, believes Mabel’s determination to ‘not let anything stop her’ translates to her students’ lives.

“I’m seeing a big gap this year between the kids who have the perseverance to keep going even when they don’t have as much supervision and those that let everything go because no one’s standing over their shoulder,” Wendehost says. “Maybe they’ll internalize that Mabel got something out of life and it was up to her to keep going.”

One student received that message loud and clear.

Alyssa Riburban, an Asian American seventh-grader who started ice skating when she was 10 years old, appreciated Mabel Fairbanks’s success story.

“I liked the book’s message – to stay positive, be passionate, and not let anything stop you,” Alyssa said.

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