Some of the very best athletes in the world are women. However, despite their skill and dedication, many women have had to overcome bias and bigotry to receive the same opportunities as male athletes.
The women in these books have overcome sexism, racism, physical disability, and religious discrimination to become leaders in their field. Despite many challenges, they became record-breakers and world-changers. Both girls and boys will find these stories inspiring, and will learn an important lesson about the power of perseverance and determination.
11 Children’s Books About Women in Sports
Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky — This excellent anthology takes a closer look at 50 female athletes who made huge contributions to their sport and to the world. Readers will learn more about well-known athletes like Wilma Rudolph and lesser known women like Keiko Fukada and Toni Stone. This book is great for teens and tweens to read on their own, but can also be a read-aloud for elementary-aged kids.
Sisters: Venus & Serena Williams by Jeanette Winter — What does it take to become a champion? For Venus and Serena Williams, it took hard work and the willingness to keep going in the face of adversity. This beautiful picture book teaches an important lesson about perseverance and grit. I highly recommend reading it to kids of all ages, particularly if you have siblings who love to compete.
Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray — Nadia Comaneci is probably best know for scoring seven perfect tens in the 1976 Summer Olympics. But before the perfect tens, she was known as an impatient girl who couldn’t sit still. This story shows how Nadia was able to take what others considered weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull — When Wilma Rudolph was a child, polio paralyzed her leg and she was told she would never walk again. Wilma made up her mind that not only would she walk, she would run. And that’s exactly what she did, breaking records and winning gold medals in the process.
America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle by David A. Adler — At the age of 17, Trudy Ederle made history by winning three gold medals in the 1924 Olympic Games. However, she’s best known for breaking a world record by swimming across the English Channel in 14 hours. This amazing story of accomplishment is accompanied by beautiful illustrations.
A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson by Michelle Y. Green — Until I read this book, I had no idea that women played baseball in the Negro Leagues. Mamie Johnson was one of those woman, with a fierce arm and a fighting spirit. Middle grade readers will enjoy this information-packed chapter book, which includes many photos from the 1950s, when Mamie played for the Indianapolis Clowns.
Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner — I love this book! It follows the story of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, following both their separate careers and their historic rivalry. Though the often battled on the court, off the court they became the best of friends. Not only does this book show how hard work can lead to great success, it shows how two people with very different backgrounds can become friends, even in the midst of competition.
You Should Meet: Roberta Gibb by Laurie Calkhoven — When Roberta Gibb applied to run in the Boston Marathon, she was told she couldn’t because women were not physically able to run marathons. Roberta decided that she would disguise herself and run anyway! Gibb became the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon, and she showed the world that women are just as capable as men. This level 3 early reader is broken into chapters and would also work well as a read-aloud spread over a few days.
Players In Pigtails by Shana Corey — Though this book is a work of fiction, it teaches readers about the era of women’s professional baseball teams in the 1940s. Kate Casey was a girl who had a hard time doing the things people thought girls were supposed to do. However, she loved baseball, and the All American Girls Professional Baseball League gave her a chance to pursue her passion. This book taught me that the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was actually written by a girl who loved baseball!
Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy — I hadn’t heard of Mary Garber before reading this book, but now I am fascinated by her! From the time she was a child, Mary loved sports. She made a career out of sports journalism at a time when women weren’t even allowed in the press box, and she broke barriers by covering African-American sports teams that others ignored. You have to check out this inspiring story of a sports journalism pioneer.
Proud: Living My American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammed — Ibtihaj Muhammed was used to being the only Muslim in her New Jersey school, and the only Muslim competing at fencing tournaments. She faced much discrimination, but she didn’t let that keep her from pursuing the sport she loved. Ibtihaj went on to be the first Muslim American woman to win a medal at the Olympics, and she made an impact by also being the first American woman to compete in a hijab. Kids in grades 3-6 will enjoy this young readers’ version of Ibtihaj Muhammed’s memoir.
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