For centuries, men have come up with reasons why women can’t do things, whether its wear pants, wield a welding torch, fly airplanes, explore space, vote……
And in all of those cases, their arguments bordered on the ridiculous (well, if I remove the sugar coating, they actually were ridiculous).
Case in point, my featured informational fiction book today:
When our story begins, it’s 1896, and a little girl named Louisa Belinda Bellflower watches as her brother, Joe, takes off on one of those new-fangled bicycles that are all the rage.
She, however, is left to read books about bicycles under a tree in a dress. BORING. So what does she do?
Yay, Louisa! I’m with you. Although they worry about doing this behind their mother’s back, an even bigger concern is BICYCLE FACE!!!
“It’s real, you know, everyone says so, even Dr. Brown,”says Joe.
“He says girls aren’t strong enough to balance, that your eyes will bulge, and your jaw will close up from the strain of trying—maybe FOREVER.”
Yikes! Although nervous, Louisa remains determined. And she’s going to need that determination because she’s not successful the first, the second, the third time…..She falls and falls and falls….until she asks her brother:
“How’s my face.”
When Joe tells her she looks exactly the same as ever, she’s relieved (even though she hurts all over from falling) and renews her determination to succeed. This time, she wheels away with a face filled with joy.
And when their mother finds out, she says:
“Those pants seem quite practical.”
With a cartwheel, Louisa agrees. The next thing you know, Mother is sewing a pair for herself, and they both ride off into the sunset.
Set against the backdrop of women’s suffrage, the mother is shown making rally posters, assembling women to protest, etc., so it’s not surprising that she jumps on board so quickly with Louisa’s efforts.
One section of back matter describes the history behind the term “bicycle face,” and a second section adds information about women’s suffrage. I love the quote from Susan B. Anthony featured at the beginning of the story:
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”
And now I will, too.
The color palette for the illustrations appear to be influenced by images included in the back matter, one a poster and the other an illustration from the book titled “Puck,” that shows how the bicycle “reformed” apparel for both men and women.
Talk about all of the things that girls or women have been told they can’t do for whatever reason. See who can come up with the longest list. Who “is allowed” to do these things today?
Pair with Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter to highlight the fact that not all women gained the right to vote at the same time (a point made in the back matter of Born to Ride)
Pair with Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World by Vashti Harrison, and talk about how girls should follow their dreams and not be dissuaded by naysayers.
Go for a bike ride and then write a poem about how it makes you feel.
Title: Born to Ride: A story about bicycle face
Author: Larissa Theule
Illustrator: Kelsey Garrity-Riley
Publisher: Abrams, 2019
Themes: overcoming sexism, bicycles, women’s suffrage
For more perfect picture book recommendations, visit Susanna Hill’s website.