the girl who ran: bobbi gibb, the first woman to run the boston marathon

The very first thing you notice about this picture book is the gorgeous cover art. The Girl Who Ran in large, white font, against a fiery watercolor background slanted crosswise on the dustjacket. And then you see the little picture of Bobbi Gibb at the bottom, running with her hair streaming behind her, echoing the colors above. If it gets you to pick up the book, the cover has done its job. In this case, I don’t see how anyone could resist it!

the girl who ran: bobbi gibb, the first woman to run the boston marathon by frances poletti and kristina yee, illustrated by susanna chapman cover
“She said she would do it, she wasn’t a liar; she’d show them by running like the wind in the fire.” When Bobbi Gibb saw the Boston Marathon her mind was set—she had to be a part of it. She trained hard, journeying across America to run on all kinds of terrain. But when the time came to apply for the marathon, she was refused entry. They told her girls don’t run, girls can’t run. That didn’t stop Bobbi.

This picture book tells the true story of how she broke the rules in 1966 and how, one step at a time, her grit and determination changed the world. The energetic and bright illustrations capture the emotions of Bobbi’s journey and the fluidity of running. Created in collaboration with Bobbi Gibb, The Girl Who Ran is perfect for would-be runners, kids of all ages, and everyone out there with a love of sport.

Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee's picture book,  The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon, illustrated by Susanna Chapman (who also created that gorgeous cover!) tells the story of Bobbi Gibb. Who is Bobbi Gibb? She is the first woman to run the Boston Marathon (the most famous marathon in America). Bobbi loved to run from a young age, and she ran, as the book repeats, “like the wind in the fire.” The book chronicles how attitudes toward her running changed as she grew up – she faced not only official rejection from race officials, but at home, from her family. But after secretly training and determining to race, Bobbi would not be dissuaded. And her mother changed her mind! So Bobbi ran, right into history. And her life, and the lives of others changed because of that.

On one hand you could characterize this picture book as an inspirational biography for younger readers. But really, it’s more than that. The prose is lyrical, and it’s accompanied by lovely art that will appeal to any reader, whether they prefer nonfiction or not. It also doesn’t hesitate to tell the story of familial disapproval and conflicts between traditional gendered expectations and personal aspirations – something that we can always use more of in books for younger kids.

As expected in a book about a runner, most of the page spreads show movement, and the illustrator portrays this with the swirls of watercolor “fire” so that you can see Bobbi’s path through the landscape. The art really shines, and in the final pages, at the marathon finish line, there’s a foldout spread that broadens the scope of the moment into something dramatic.

Another positive: at the end of the book there’s a concise 2-page spread with both a formal biography and a timeline showing Bobbi’s marathon runs, Boston Marathon milestones and women’s involvement. It would be a good starting point for a school project!

In all, The Girl Who Ran is a beautiful picture book that illustrates the value of persevering despite setbacks, or even the disbelief or opposition of your family.

Recommended for: readers ages 6-9 who are interested in nonfiction biographies, running, and people overcoming the odds, and folks any age who enjoy positive, inspirational stories.

Fine print: I received a copy of this title for review from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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