This illustrated book for readers aged nine and up is part of a series of books about “brilliant women” who have made their marks in fields traditionally seen as only appropriate for men.
There are eight women who receive four-page profiles, and additional sporting heroines who have thumbnail sketches.
Marie Marvingt, born in France in 1875, competed in a number of sports despite also having to do housekeeping. In 1905 she became the first woman to swim the length of the River Seine in Paris. In 1908 she disguised herself as a man to compete as a cyclist in the Tour de France. [The author notes that even today, the Tour de France is a men-only event.] She finished the race; a feat that only 36 out of 114 men managed to replicate. Not only that, at age 86, two years before her death, she cycled over 198 miles between Nancy and Paris! During World War I, she became the first woman to fly combat missions. She was also the first woman to climb many of the mountains in the French Alps, and the first woman to cross the English Channel in a hot-air balloon.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, born in 1911 in Texas, played golf, basketball, and baseball, and was outstanding at all of them. She competed in the 1932 Olympics and medaled in the hurdles, javelin toss, and high jump. Of course she was accused of being a man in disguise. [These same accusations now plague Serena Williams.]
Speaking of Serena Williams, she has been ranked the Number 1 tennis player in the world for more than six years in her career.
Cathy Freeman, a sprinter, was the first Australian indigenous woman to win an international medal in any sport.
Sarah Storey is the most successful British Paralympian of all time, with a total of 14 gold medals. A swimmer and a cyclist, she was born without a working left hand and was bullied incessantly in school, but that never stopped her.
Marta Vieira da Silva of Brazil is considered the most skillful women’s soccer player in the world. The author tells the story of her impoverished childhood, and how she learned to play soccer with the boys out on her street.
Tatyana McFadden is another Paralympic champion, racing her wheelchair over both long and short distances. Tatyana was born paralyzed from the waist down. Her mother couldn’t take care of her, so she was sent to an orphanage. She was adopted at age six, and started participating in sports to strengthen her muscles. She actually had to go to court to win the right to race in high school.
Katie Ledecky, born in Washington, D.C. in 1997, is the most successful female swimmer of all time. She has broken 13 world records during her career. She “shocked the world,” the author writes, when, at age 15 in the 2012 Olympics, she won the 800-m freestyle with the second-fastest time ever recorded.
After thumbnail sketches of some additional exceptional women athletes, the author appends a glossary and list of sources for further information.
Rita Petruccioli is an Italian illustrator and comic book artist. Her cartoon-like illustrations are colorful and entertaining.
Evaluation: These stories of women athletes, selected from a diverse group of women around the world, are inspirational and awe-inspiring even if you have no interest in, or ability for, sports. It is such a welcome addition to any library for kids; while books about male sports stars are plentiful, analogous books about females are few and far between.
Published in the U.S. by Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. (now B.E.S. Publishing), 2018