Women in Sports

by Mary Northrup

Elementary school through middle school

Since Title IX brought girls equal access to sports in schools, athletic opportunities for women have increased dramatically. But women have played on the field and court for years, even before it was common for them to do so. During World War II, professional women’s baseball teams toured the country to give sports-loving crowds something to cheer about while many of the male players were overseas fighting. Women have been playing basketball since the 1890s, when Senda Berenson, a physical education teacher, earned the title of “the mother of basketball.” In golf, tennis, track, swimming, and many other sports, women have competed as amateurs, professionals, and Olympians.

The following recommended titles feature the stories of real women in a variety of sports. Girls seeking role models, teachers in search of supplementary material for history or social studies, young sports fans, and readers looking for stories of boundary breakers will all find books here to satisfy them.


Green, Michelle Y.
A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson. 2002. 128p. Dial, $15.99 (0-8037-2661-9); Puffin, paper, $5.99 (0-14-240072-6).

Gr. 4–7. Feisty Mamie Johnson broke barriers all along: trying out for the boys-only, white-only Police Athletic league team, then becominga player in the Negro Leagues, one of only three women to do so. This story, told in her voice, takes the reader back to a time when a small girl with a mean pitching arm fulfilled a dream.

Hopkinson, Deborah.
Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings. Illus. by Terry Widener. 2003. 40p. Simon & Schuster/Anne Schwartz, $16.95 (0-689-83300-8).

Gr. 2–4. In the early 1900s, Alta Weiss played for a semipro men’s baseball team. This fictionalized account of her early life, enhanced by lively acrylic illustrations, captures young Alta’s joy in pitching. An author’s note about Weiss, who later became a doctor, and a time line featuring highlights of women in baseball are included.

Macy, Sue.
A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. 1993. 60p. Puffin, paper, $5.99 (0-14-037423-X).

Gr. 4–6. The women who played professional baseball from 1943 to 1954 take center stage in this history. The text includes numerous quotes from players and primary documents; the photos of the players both on field and off add interest to the story. Macy places her topic firmly in the historical context of the times. Appendixes of league rules, team listings, and champion players; a chronology; how to find out more about the league; a reading list; and an index are included.

Moss, Marissa.
Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen. Illus. by C. F. Payne. 2004. 32p. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, $16.95 (0-689-86329-2).

Preschool–Gr. 3. There really was a 17-year-old girl who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Jackie Mitchell accomplished this amazing feat in 1931. Moss’ retelling of the event, as well as her depiction of Jackie’s early life and love of baseball, brings out the excitement of the game. Large, colorful, realistic illustrations complement the mood of the text perfectly. End material includes an author’s note about Jackie’s later life and a bibliography.

Rappaport, Doreen, and Lyndall Callan.
Dirt on Their Skirts: The Story of the Young Women Who Won the World Championship. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. 2000. 32p. Dial, $16.99 (0-8037-2042-4).

Preschool–Gr. 3. This fictionalized account of the 1946 game between the Racine Belles and the Rockford Peaches is rooted in fact. Told from the point of view of a young fan watching the game, the story introduces the reader to the players of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and the action-packed game to determine the championship for that year. Watercolor illustrations enhance the text. A score sheet for the game, an author’s note about the league, and photographs of the players then and now add historical weight.


Kuklin, Susan.
Hoops with Swoopes. 2001. 32p. Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, $15.99 (0-7868-0551-X).

Preschool–Gr. 2. With few words on each page, this book emphasizes action visually. Sheryl Swoopes of the WNBA jumps and shoots and dribbles down the court. The book concludes with the message of believing in oneself. A note from Sheryl herself is included at the beginning.

Lannin, Joanne.
A History of Basketball for Girls and Women: From Bloomers to Big Leagues. 2000. 144p. Lerner, $26.60 (0-8225-3331-6); paper, $9.95 (0-8225-9863-9).

Gr. 5–9. From the early rules, adapted from the men’s game, for women players to the WNBA, this book focuses on the development of the game, its players, and its stars. Historical photographs and color photos from the 1980s and later add interest. A list of books for further reading and an index are included.

Smith, Charles R., Jr.
Hoop Queens. 2003. 40p. Candlewick, $14.99 (0-7636-1422-X).

Gr. 3–6. Smith has written a poem for each of 12 players from the WNBA. Each verse focuses on something about the player or the way she plays. The lively poems coupled with photographs of the women in action capture the rhythms, sounds, and excitement of the game. To explain his inspiration for each piece, the author includes notes about each poem at the end of the book.

Steen, Sandra, and Susan Steen.
Take It to the Hoop: 100 Years of Women’s Basketball. 2003. 144p. Twenty-First Century, $26.60 (0-76132-470-4).

Gr. 6–8. Beginning with modifications Senda Berenson of Smith College made to James Naismith’s rules for “basket ball,” his new sport for men, this book features teams and players as it follows the game, which spread from women’s colleges to high schools and professional teams. Historical photographs; a glossary; lists of rules, professional teams, and awards; and an index are included.


Dolan, Ellen M.
Susan Butcher and the Iditarod Trail. 1993. 112p. Walker, paper, $8.95 (0-8027-7496-2).

Gr. 5–7. Running the famous dog-sled race in Alaska takes a combination of well-trained dogs, physical stamina, and tough decision-making. This account of the origin of the Iditarod also introduces Butcher, a repeat winner, as she trains her dogs and runs the race. Illustrated with black-and-white photos, the book includes appendixes of the Iditarod routes and winners, Butcher’s statistics and awards, and an index.

Flowers, Pam, and Ann Dixon.
Big Enough Anna: The Little Sled Dog Who Braved the Arctic. Illus. by Bill Farnsworth. 2003. 32p. Alaska Northwest, $15.95 (0-88240-577-2); paper, $8.95 (0-88240-580-2).

K–Gr. 3. From being the smallest pup in the litter, Anna becomes the lead dog in Pam Flowers’ team as she sleds across the Arctic, the first woman to do so alone. Although this is more the story of Anna, Flowers’ training of her dogs and her devotion to them throughout their challenging trip make this her story, too.

Riddles, Libby.
Storm Run: The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Illus. by Shannon Cartwright. 2002. 48p. Sasquatch, $16.95 (1-57061-298-6); paper, $9.95 (1-57061-293-5).

Gr. 1–5. The author tells her own story of how she came to Alaska, where she lives a rustic life and trains dogs. Recounting the dog-sled runs she has made, Riddles introduces her dogs and the people in the villages, the intense training, the equipment, and the environment. A combination of color photographs and drawings helps the reader visualize elements of sled racing and the Alaskan wilderness.


Hamm, Mia.
Winners Never Quit! Illus. by Carol Thompson. 2004. 32p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (0-06-074050-7).

K–Gr. 2. The world’s top goal scorer, male or female, and three-time Olympian offers a partly autobiographical soccer tale about a little girl whose tendency to stomp off the field when frustrated prompts her teammates to come up with a creative way to help her learn to accept losing gracefully. A concluding spread features facts and photos charting Hamm’s rise to fame.


Adler, David A.
America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle. Illus. by Terry Widener. 2000. 32p. Harcourt/Gulliver, $16 (0-15-201969-3); paper, $6 (0-15-205251-8). Paperback available June 2005.

Gr. 1–4. The first woman to swim the English Channel stars in this book, which focuses on Ederle’s hard work and training as well as the actual swim. Colorful illustrations enhance the text. An author’s note about Ederle’s triumph and her life after the channel swim follows the narrative.


Donaldson, Madeline.
Venus and Serena Williams. 2003. 32p. LernerSports, $22.60 (0-8225-3316-2); paper, $5.95 (0-8225-9842-6).

Gr. 3–4. This book, ideal for the reluctant reader, traces the lives of the tennis champ sisters from their childhood to their numerous victories in tournaments around the world. Supplemented with color photographs, the book focuses on the dedication and talent that has taken them to the top. End material includes career highlights for each player, a glossary, a list for further reading and Web sites, and an index.

Williams, Venus, and Serena Williams.
Venus and Serena: Serving from the Hip. 2005. 144p. Houghton, paper, $14 (0-618-576533-3).

Gr. 7–10. With an inviting, open design and lots of color photos, this title by the Williams sisters focuses on their philosophy of life on the court and off. Venus and Serena discuss dating, spending money, and school, as well as their lives as professional tennis stars.

Track and Field

Krull, Kathleen.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman. Illus. by David Diaz. 1996. 48p. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-201267-2); paper, $6 (0-15-202098-5).

Gr. 1–4. Wilma Rudolph overcame polio to become a runner, eventually winning three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics. This dramatic story is enticingly told, complemented by bold acrylic, watercolor, and gouache illustrations, each set against a sepia-tinted collage background that echoes a detail in the picture.

All Sports

Freedman, Russell.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion. 1999. 192p. Clarion, $18 (0-395-3367-2).

Gr. 5–12. The best woman athlete of all time is brought to life in this biography. During the first half of the twentieth century, Zaharias played sports when many thought that women should not, and excelled in all of them. Loaded with black-and-white photographs of Zaharias playing baseball and basketball, running, and golfing, as well as publicity shots taken after she became famous, this book includes a bibliography and an index.

Girls Got Game: Sports Stories and Poems. Edited by Sue Macy. 2001. 160p. Holt, $17.95 (0-8050-6568-7).

Gr. 6–9. Nine American women authors, including Virginia Euwer Wolff and Jacqueline Woodson, contribute original short stories about girls playing sports to this collection. Along with traditionally organized team sports, the sports portrayed here include synchronized swimming, tetherball, horseback riding, and stickball. Each story’s endnote describes the writer’s relationship to sports both as a girl and as a woman. For more on women’s athletics, see Macy’s
Winning Ways: A Photohistory of Women in Sports (Holt, 1996), and
Play Like a Girl: A Celebration of Women in Sports (Holt, 1999), a collection of photographs and quotations edited by Macy along with Jane Gottesman.

Series Connections

The following is a recommended selection of series titles featuring female athletes.

Matt Christopher Sports Biographies. Little, Brown. Individual books, 96–128p., paper, $4.99.

Gr. 3–7. Athletes who shot to the top in their sports are the focus of these books. The texts capture the lives of these stars from the beginning, from their years of practice and training, to their time in the spotlight. Inserts in the middle of each book contain action photographs, career highlights, and statistics. Titles about women athletes include
On the Ice with Tara Lipinski,
On the Field with Mia Hamm,
On the Field with Julie Foudy,
In the Goal with Brianna Scurry,
On the Court with Venus and Serena Williams, and
On the Court with Jennifer Capriati.

New Wave. Lerner/Millbrook. Individual books, 48p., $23.93; paper, $6.95.

Gr. 4–7. Well-written and full of color photographs and sidebars, these books give the young reader everything he or she would want to know about the players, even their favorite TV shows, sports, snacks, and hobbies. Quotes from coaches, teammates, and the players themselves open each chapter. Women featured in these eponymously named titles include
Chamique Holdsclaw and
Jackie Stiles (basketball),
Se Ri Pak (golf),
Mia Hamm (soccer),
Venus and Serena Williams (tennis), and
Marion Jones (track and field).

Positively for Kids Athletes. Positively for Kids. Individual books, 40–48p., $15.95.

Gr. 4–7. Told in the first person, these stories stress a positive message as athletes recount their childhood years and how they became champions. Women featured in these books include Sue Bird and Sheryl Swoopes (basketball), Kristi Yamaguchi (figure skating), Kerri Strug (gymnastics), and Bonnie Blair (speed skating).

Sports Achievers. Lerner. Individual books, 64p., $22.60; paper, $5.95.

Gr. 4–9. Each book showcases an athlete, describes how she got into her sport, and features you-are-there descriptions of crucial events and personal bests. Women featured in this series include Julie Foudy (soccer), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track and field), and Venus and Serena Williams (tennis).

Women of Sports. Lerner. Individual books, 64p., $25.26; paper, $7.95.

Gr. 4–8. These books each focus on a particular sport, and cover eight of the sport’s female stars. Personal information, quotes, and color photographs of the athletes add interest. Titles include
The Best of the Best in Basketball,
The Best of the Best in Figure Skating, and
The Best of the Best in Soccer, among others.

Listed below are articles from past issues of
Book Links about women’s history.

• “Jean Fritz’s
You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?” July 1996, p.47

• “Dynamic Older Women,” May 1997, p.34

• “Women on the Job,” September 1997, p.61

• “Exploring the Gaps in History,” August/September 2000, p.16

• “Remarkable Women,” February/March 2001, p.47

• “Women’s History in Slices,” February/March 2002, p.51

• “
Camerawomen,” February/March 2003, p.29

Mary Northrup is a reference librarian at Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City, Missouri, and a freelance writer of books and articles for children, teachers, librarians, and writers.