The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon Book Poster Image
Suspense, drama in tale of runner who helped break barrier.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Historical information about women's rights: in 1966, women weren't allowed to run Boston Marathon. Names of states where she trained: Ohio, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana. Types of terrain: forests, plains, mountains, valleys. In 1966, running shoes weren't made for women. College town of Wellesley with all-female students. Back matter includes biographical information about Bobbi's life and a timeline that includes date of 1972, when women were officially allowed to enter the Boston Marathon.

Positive Messages

Girls can be athletic and excel physically. If people discourage you from doing something, you can find ways to continue. When you push past boundaries, there are people who will support you and cheer you on. When one woman breaks new ground, she paves the way for others to follow.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bobbi loves to run and push herself physically. When she sees the Marathon and knows she wants to participate, she figures out how to pursue it. When her parents discourage her from training, she goes elsewhere to do it in secret. When her application's rejected, she's resourceful and figures out an ingenious way to participate anyway.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run The Boston Marathon is an inspiring biography filled with drama, suspense, and excitement. In 1966, when Bobbi Gibb's application for the Marathon was rejected because she was female, she disguised herself as male so she could sneak in to run with the men. Gibb is a great role model for young girls, modeling persistence, ingenuity, and athleticism. The back pages include biographical information about Bobbi's life after that Marathon, and a timeline.

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What's the story?

THE GIRL WHO RAN: BOBBI GIBB, THE FIRST WOMAN TO RUN THE BOSTON MARATHON tells the story of Bobbi Gibb, who dreamed of running the Boston Marathon and became the first woman to do so in 1966, despite disapproval and obstacles. When her parents discouraged her, she trained in secret. When her application was rejected, she borrowed her brother's shorts and a shapeless hoodie to disguise herself, and hid in the bushes. As the race began, she joined the hundreds of runners, but when she got hot, she had to shed her sweatshirt. The men running near her promised that they wouldn't let the officials throw her out, and Bobbi crossed the finish line, making history and paving the way for other women to run the Marathon.

Is it any good?

It's a happy moment in history when a light is shone on the lives of remarkable women, and this bio is a rollicking good story with a big dollop of drama. Most of the action in The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon takes place before and during the 1966 Boston Marathon, when Bobbi Gibb -- stealthily! -- became the first woman to run. Who doesn't like a story in which a woman is plucky enough to disguise herself in guy's clothes, hide her hair in a hoodie, and dash out from the bushes to run with the boys? And when she's about to cross the finish line, there's a double foldout page to open, which feels as celebratory as popping a cork.

Today's young readers will be surprised to realize that it wasn't so long ago that women were banned from marathons. Authors Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee choose details that will make kids gasp -- for example, that people told Bobbi she would "injure herself," and that she had to wear men's running shoes "since they didn't make them for girls." Susanna Chapman's appealing illustrations capture Bobbi on the run, trailed by a whoosh of wind, with wisps of hair flying from her hoodie. Text swirls on the page to illustrate both the chorus of naysayers who try to quash her -- "Don't be silly." "So unladylike." "It's against the rules." -- and the cheers that celebrate her at the end -- "Go, girl, go!" "You're my hero!" "We're all behind you!" The book makes clear that Bobbi's success paved the way for women who came after her to participate freely.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the obstacles Bobbi faced in The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon, and how she overcame them. What did she do when her parents wouldn't let her train? What did she do when her application was rejected?

  • What obstacles do girls face today? Are there still things people think girls can't do?

  • How does the illustrator use the words that swirl around the page? What do those words express at the beginning of the book? At the end?

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