Books Early Readers Features Genre It's Monday What Are You Reading Lifespan of a Reader Memoirs, Biographies, and Constructed Narratives Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Terrible Women Who Ran and Cycled – Picture Book Biographies of Female Athletes (Part 1 of 2)

Tillie The Terrible Swede: How One Woman, A Sewing Needle, And A Bicycle Changed History by Sue Stauffacher and Sarah McMenemy / The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman To Run The Boston Marathon by Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee and Susanna Chapman


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 

I have a special affinity for picturebook biographies (PBB), and I am thrilled that I can indulge in reading as much as I possibly can given our current reading theme. These two PBBs feature fierce and “terrible” women who were regarded as such because they happen to excel in sports – an area traditionally perceived to be dominated only by men.

Tillie The Terrible Swede: How One Woman, A Sewing Needle, And A Bicycle Changed History

Written by: Sue Stauffacher Illustrated by: Sarah McMenemy
Published by: Knopf Books For Young Readers (2011)
ISBN: 0375944427 (ISBN13: 9780375944420). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

The title of this book caught my eye. Evidently, the book creators knew how to ‘hook’ a reader, pun intended. Tillie Anderson, originally from Sweden, came to America with a dream.

Armed with her needle, Tillie found a job in a tailor’s shop. But the image above showed how Tillie’s attention was riveted by this man outside the shop. She knew she simply had to experience what it was like to ride a bicycle, notwithstanding the fact that she belonged to a very different generation where women are expected to wear voluminous dresses and to act in a ladylike, appropriate manner.

Armed once again with her needle, she used her trusty companion to sew a different type of clothing that would make it easier for her to ride a bike, and to feel the wind in her face. She did not mind how horrified everyone around her felt and thought about this passion of hers. All that mattered was that she could fly on her bike, and that she made herself stronger so that she can ride longer and faster.

Soon enough, she joined in a few bicycle races that proved how skilled she was in biking. Just to show how different the circumstances had been in the late 1800s, here is an excerpt from the book:

For six days, women raced an hour and a half in the afternoon and an hour and a half in the evening. Riding shoulder to shoulder with the other racers – with no protective gear or helmet – the woman who could stay on her bike and ride the farthest claimed the prize money.

Tillie inspired both animosity from highly conservative individuals and hope for more open-minded ones who saw a human being who experienced much joy (and manifested unparalleled skill) in what she does. Tillie was even regarded as some sort of a freak, with newspaper reporters measuring her thighs and legs to prove that she has become totally unlike other women – a deleterious effect of too much biking:

While most young people now tend to take so many things for granted, this book serves as an eye-opener that things have not always been what they had been.

The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman To Run The Boston Marathon

Written by: Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee Illustrated by: Susanna Chapman
Published by: Compendium Inc (2017)
ISBN: 1943200475 (ISBN13: 9781943200474). Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

While tillie’s story could be chalked up to the zeitgeist of the time, being that of the late 1800s, this story (set in the late 1960s) shows that it may not be so much the time period, but society’s generally unfounded assumptions about womanity. Since young, Bobbi Gibb had always loved to run. She loved the sound running makes in her ears:

She was able to witness the Boston Marathon for the first time with her father, and she knew at that precise moment that one day she would be part of it. However, her dreams were initially crushed when she was not supported by her parents who felt that girls couldn’t run marathons, and that she would only hurt herself.

Faced with this kind of parental disapproval and discouragement, Bobbi left home, and trained on her own, unbeknownst to her family. When she sent her application to the Boston Marathon committee, however, she experienced another heartbreak: it was rejected because of her gender, notwithstanding her physical fitness and the fact that she trained hard for it.

If there is anything that young readers can learn from these two stories, it is that both Bobbi Gibb and Tillie the Terrible Swede refused to take no for an answer, with the full and ardent belief that they are good at what they do. There is a tenacity of purpose that went beyond societal censure or rejection from the powers-that-be.

Bobbi Gibb, after being rejected, disguised herself as a boy wearing a hood and men’s running shoes.

Before people realized what was happening, she was running fast and free, finishing ahead of about half the men in the race. Her courage and persistence forever changed the way society viewed female athletes. Truly an inspiring story that deserves to be in every classroom.

#LitWorld2018GB Update: USA.

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14 comments on “[Monday Reading] Terrible Women Who Ran and Cycled – Picture Book Biographies of Female Athletes (Part 1 of 2)

  1. I love the illustrations in these books. Gorgeous!

    I didn’t even know they had picture biographies, interesting.

    Angelica Paperback Princess

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Inspiring story for The Girl Who Ran! Tillie The Terrible Swede too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As someone who likes to cycle and run, these books interest me. They both sound inspirational. I’ve never read The Girl Who Ran, but I enjoyed Girl Running which is also about Bobbi Gibb.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I haven’t yet read Tillie The Terrible Swede, but I would love to. Such an important story for today’s youth to be aware of. And Bobbi Gibb’s story has stuck with me for quite a while. I remember seeing the haunting photos of her running that first marathon and trying to escape the men attempting to stop her. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lindabaie

    Will look for the Tillie book, Myra, a new one to me. A story of one of my grandmothers is that she set people talking by riding “astride” when she came to town with her new husband. That just wasn’t done in the early 20th century, like Tillie’s new clothes! I loved Annette’s book about Bobbi Gibb, so great that women are willing to follow their passions regardless of obstacles! Hurrah! And thanks, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I hadn’t heard of Tillie yet. Sounds fascinating.


  7. What I love most about these books is your title for them. What the world needs is more terrible women! As a teenager and budding feminist, I remember when Bobbi Gibb ran that marathon. I remember all the fuss and furor over women being allowed to do all kinds of things. Alas, we still have a long way to go.
    I’m looking forward to reading both these books!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sarah Sammis

    What a great selection of books. Come see what I’m reading

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Both of these books look amazing! I like that they promote exercise because kids need less screen time and more outside time. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love this roundup! I’ve read the book about Bobbi Gibb but I want to find the other one!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I loved your use of a sarcastic terrible!
    I’ve read the RUN one, but I don’t know Tillie. I’ll need to check it out 🙂

    Happy reading this week!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Both of these books look really great! I read the other Bobbi Gibb book and really liked it, so now I want to get my hands on this one to compare the two! Also, I think all book with “Terrible” in the title are winners. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] When Women Were Not Expected To Run – Gathering Books

  14. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] Kathrine Switzer and “Her Fearless Run” – Gathering Books

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