About the Holiday
Instituted in 1911 and celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, International Women’s Day was recognized by the United Nations in 1975. In 1996, honoring the holiday under a united theme was established and this tradition has been followed ever since. During the 100th anniversary of International Woman’s Day in 2011, President Barak Obama proclaimed March to be National Women’s Month. Both International Women’s Day and National Women’s Month recognize the accomplishments and contributions of women throughout history and today. This year’s theme is Balance for Better and raises awareness of the need for gender equity across the spectrum of education, business, government, media coverage, rights, wealth, and more. The outreach and influence of International Women’s Day continues throughout the year. To learn more and get involved, visit the International Women’s Day website.
Abrams Books for Young Readers sent me a copy of Born to Ride to check out. All opinions are my own.
Born to Ride: A Story about Bicycle Face
Written by Larissa Theule | Illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley
Open the cover of this remarkable picture book to a two-page illustration and you might notice something unusual—for our time. What is it? Read on and see…
As Louisa Belinda Bellflower gazed out her window at a man riding a bicycle in Rochester, New York, in 1896, she wished that she could ride one too. But girls and women weren’t allowed to ride bicycles, just as they weren’t allowed to vote or wear pants. Louisa’s brother, Joe, had a brand-new bike, and “riding it looked like a whole lot of fun.”
One day, Louisa took off her frilly skirt and put on her brother’s pants and asked him to teach her how to ride. There were, however, a couple of concerns. One was what would their mother say? Another was the horrible medical condition, bicycle face. Everyone knew about it, and Doctor Brown was strict on this matter. He said, “‘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.’”
Louisa considered this fate, but Joe didn’t have any of these symptoms. Even though she was a little nervous, she tried it anyway. Louisa fell again and again, but when Joe asked her if she wanted to quit, she continued. She began peddling again and soon had the knack for it. “With some alarm, she felt her eyes bulge, and her mouth widen—into a gigantic, joyous smile.”
She rode back and forth down the path and when she got home, her mother said, “‘those pants look quite practical, Louisa Belinda,’” And Louisa turned a somersault just to show her she was right. Then Louisa’s mother asked Joe if Father’s bike was in good shape. Joe said it was, and their mother set about converting her skirt into a pair of pants. When they were finished, Louisa and her mother wheeled the bikes out side-by-side and took off. “‘Mother,’” Louisa said, “‘what will your bicycle face be, I wonder!’”
You only need to turn the page to see. Louisa’s mother is smiling and that original two-page spread has been transformed with lots of women and girls riding the roads that lead to the Votes for Women rally in the town green.
An extensive Author’s Note follows the text and explains the origin of “bicycle face” and other such imagined bicycle-related maladies as well as the opposition to women’s riding bicycles. Also included is a discussion on the women’s suffrage movement.
Both children and adult readers will be astounded at Larissa Theule’s eye-opening story that reveals just one of the many obstacles women have had to overcome in their quest for equal rights. Theule’s story, told through the eyes of a girl with pluck and self-confidence, is well targeted to her young audience with an engaging undercurrent of humor at the nonsensical reasoning behind the ban on women’s bicycle riding and even the constricting clothing of the time for girls and boys. As Louisa falls again and again while learning to ride, Theule infuses her story with the idea that perseverance wins out—a concept she not only applies to learning a new skill, but to the parallel story of women’s suffrage that runs throughout the illustrations.
Kelsey Garrity-Riley’s charming illustrations evoke the late 1800s, giving kids a view of history with Victorian-style houses; skirts, bloomers, and pinafores for girls and short-pant suits for boys; and an old-fashioned sewing machine. Adding depth and context to the story, Garrity-Riley follows Louisa and Joe’s mother as she paints “Votes for Women” and “Ballots for Both” signs and later hosts a women’s suffrage tea attended by white and dark-skinned women, a woman in a wheelchair, and one progressive man. Garrity-Riley cleverly combines images of Louisa’s indomitable spirit with these depictions of protest to reinforce the theme and lesson of the story.
To jumpstart discussions about equal rights for all, Born to Ride: A Story about Bicycle Face is a unique and fascinating addition to home, school, and public libraries.
Ages 4 – 8
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419734120
Discover more about Larissa Theule and her books on her website.
To learn more about Kelsey Garrity-Riley, her books, and her art, visit her website.
International Women’s Day Activity
Ride with Me! Maze
Two girls want to ride bikes together. Can you help them find each other in this printable maze?
You can find Born to Ride: A Story about Bicycle Face at these booksellers
Picture Book Review