Representation is important. "If you can't see it, you can't be it," I think the saying goes. It's something those of us who don't see ourselves reflected in the world around us inherently know. It's often a concerted effort to seek out stories we can relate to. That's why, as soon as I knew I was having a daughter, I began to search for books about girls in sports.
I have no idea whether my daughters, ages 3 and 8 months, will be athletes; they're still too young. But sports have always been a huge part of my life. My parents have run a tennis academy since I was young, I competed in gymnastics and cheerleading from elementary school up until I left for college, and I'm a sportswriter for a living, so games are always on the TV in our home. The sports I cover for work, like Major League Baseball, showcase men on the field. It's important to me that my girls know that athletics are open to them, too.
I've begun to collect books about girls who loves sports. I want my girls to see people who look like them in the pages of books about all kinds of athletic pursuits. I want their little minds to never doubt that girls can play and excel in a world that often feels dominated by male athletes. The books I've chosen showcase a variety of sports. They range from picture books to historical accounts to fictional stories featuring athletic protagonists and are appropriate for children from 3 to their teen years.
For the little ones
This book is really a poem put to gorgeous illustrations. The poem originally appeared in 1974's "A Black Woman Speaks" and, while it's more about feminism and empowerment than athletics, the images and message of never giving up and to never stop climbing or trying is an important one in life and in sports. The images make this book a lovely read for small children, though it may appeal to all ages.
This is the story of a young princess who plays soccer, does yoga and loves sports. She also routinely gets bumps and bruises while learning them. A great read for small girls, this will encourage them to brush themselves off while also showing them that they don't have to choose between being a princess or an athlete; they can be everything they want to be.
This picture book about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League teaches young girls that "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" was actually written about a girl. It also helps introduce them to the history of women in baseball during a time when they may not see themselves reflected in the modern-day professional culture of the sport.
For the early reader
The true story of Maria Tallchief tells kids about a girl who grew up on the Osage Indian reservation, where women were traditionally not allowed to dance. Seeing her talent, Maria's parents allowed her to break the rule and she grew up to be a prima ballerina. Maria's story is inspirational, and she tells it in her own words.
This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of Alice Coachman, who grew up in rural Georgia, where she faced challenges as a black female athlete. Alice persevered to find Olympic success at the 1948 Games by becoming the first black woman to take home the gold medal when she won the high jump competition.
In 1896, the first-ever intercollegiate women's basketball game was played between Stanford and California. "Basketball Belles" uses bold images to accompany the storytelling so young readers can learn all about how the nation found out that girls can play hoops.
For the middle schooler
This eight-book series tells the stories of a team of cheerleaders, chronicling their friendships and the trials and tribulations of middle school life. Girls will love reading stories they relate to, and we need more books that acknowledge that cheerleading is a sport (after all, even the International Olympic Committee agrees it is!).
This award-winning graphic novel about junior high and roller derby is written by a derby girl for derby girls. Roller Girl follows 12-year-old Astrid as she attends derby camp and comes to terms with finding her place in the sport and losing a friendship when her best friend chooses to pursue dance instead of derby.
The true story of the Williams sisters' barrier-breaking rise to the top of the tennis world is a captivating and important read. The book examines the barriers they faced in the predominantly white sport in language that's easily digestible for middle-grade readers.
For the YA reader
An important read for any girl who plays sports, especially if they hope to pursue them at the collegiate level, "Let Me Play" explores the history of Title IX, the law that made it illegal to discriminate against girls in sports.
A series for the young adult who loves romantic fiction and sports, "Pretty Tough" features protagonists who play sports while navigating friendships, relationships and team dynamics.
Basich writes her own story of how she came to conquer the snowboarding world and how being told she was "pretty good ... for a girl" only pushed her to work harder -- launching clothing lines, dominating the field and changing the sport forever.