Fast as She Can

Fearless: The Story of Racing Legend Louise Smith
By Barb Rosenstock
Illustrated by Scott Dawson
(Dutton Children’s Books,New York, 2010, $16.99)

Who doesn’t remember that first, exhilarating time solo drive? In Fearless, Barb Rosenstock explores the career of auto-racing pioneer Louise Smith, one of the first women to race professionally in the 1940s and 50s. To Smith, driving fast represented an escape from the narrowly restricted social roles of her day. Behind the wheel, there was adventure – and freedom.

A short preface and epilogue provide some contextual information about Smith’s life and racing history, but Rosenstock’s text is lively and conversational as though one of Louise’s friends were telling the story to a young relative. Like any good storyteller, she employs repetition and other narrative devices to build suspense: “Fast! Faster! Flying! Free!” she writes whenever Louise soars ahead. Scott Dawson’s realistic paintings add drama and humor to the biography, capturing the thrill of the race track and Smith’s easy charm. (Parents and teachers will enjoy how Smith smiles disarmingly at her husband to win his support for her career.)

The biography’s most amusing episode – and most captivating image – has seven-year-old Louise Smith starting her father’s car and careening down a dirt road on her first drive. Eyes wide with glee, she grins broadly. The drive ends with a bang, but Louise is undaunted. Whether or not readers share her taste for acceleration, Fearless shows them the delights of taking risks on and off the track.

Dorothy A. Dahm

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