Book: The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon
Author: Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee
Illustrator: Susanna Chapman
Age Range: 4-8
The Girl Who Ran recounts the true story of Bobbi Gibb, who from childhood loved running. When Bobbi learned about The Boston Marathon she wanted to run. But in her day (the 60's), women weren't allowed to run marathons. People believed that they weren't strong enough, and would injure themselves. So, after training on her own, running across the country and camping at night, Bobbi dressed up like a man and successfully completed the 1966 Boston Marathon. Bobbi's story definitely held my interest.
I did feel like the book could have provided a bit more detail to Bobbi's story. What year was Bobbi born? How old was she when she ran the marathon? Where did she grow up? But I suppose it's not difficult for young readers who are inspired by Bobbi's story to look her up. And this is more a book describing one thing about someone's history, rather than a full-fledged biography. Certainly it is an inspiring story. Here's a girl who loved doing something, was told "no" repeatedly, including by her parents, and found a way to do it anyway.
In the book's presentation, all of the men around her who realized that she was a woman during the race were supportive, as were spectators along the route. While I found myself a tad skeptical of the universal support once she was already in the race (in contrast to the universal condemnation of the idea prior to the race), I think that this upbeat portrayal will encourage young readers. I liked that the authors, Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee, made it clear that finishing the race was difficult for Bobbi, but that she gritted it out.
Their writing style is a mix of narrative text, words from the people around her, and the occasional poetic couplet. The book's formatting keeps these three methods distinct. Like this, on one page spread:
"The cheers were a roar. And Bobbi needed it. The ground was hard, her new shoes were stiff, and the final hill was still ahead.
But she couldn't stop now, though she ached and perspired,
and the world whooshed by, like the wind in the fire."
This text is shown at the bottom of the pages, while near the top, above the picture of Bobbi running, the words from the bystanders are shown in various fonts: "It's a girl!" "Go, girl, go!", etc. Different fonts for different voices. My seven-year-old, when I read this with her, will want to read every one of those aloud herself.
The poetic couplets are always in italics, and repeat the "like the wind in the fire" refrain. It's a bit unconventional, this mix of narration, exhortations, and poetry, but it worked for me. And I quite liked Susanna Chapman's illustrations. When Bobbi runs, we see a kind of streamer trail, in red, yellow and orange, a visual representation of her joy in running. There's a fold-out spread showing when she crosses the finish line of the marathon, with plenty of white space, and which adds to the epic feel of Bobbi's accomplishment.
The Girl Who Ran is the very prototype of inspirational nonfiction picture book. It leaves the reader feeling happy. The fact that it's about a single aspect of the protagonist's life, rather than a chronicle of her full history, could make The Girl Who Ran work for those who are not such fans of biography, but just want a good story. Despite the two authors and separate illustrator, and the multiple narrative methods, the whole package works seamlessly together. The Girl Who Ran is a book that certainly belongs in libraries. It would also make a good classroom read-aloud for first or second graders, perhaps in the week prior to the school fitness run. I look forward to reading this with my daughter. Recommended!
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).