Books, Featured, Physical Education, Social Justice, Women's History

Women in Sports

Women in Sports

Originally published in TEACH Magazine, January/February 2024 Issue

Join us in celebrating the achievements of women in sports! While it’s true that sports have come a long way, women have only recently begun to gain the recognition they deserve as athletes. It’s important to highlight the lives of women and girls (both real and fictional) who have excelled in their respective sports, rather than relegating them to the sidelines. In anticipation of the Summer Olympic Games happening later this year, we have compiled a list of books that showcase women’s stories in a male-dominated field of sports-themed books. So, sit back, relax, and get ready to be inspired!

Barely Floating
By Lilliam Rivera
Kokila (August 2023)
Grade Level: 4–7

This middle-grade novel focuses on Nat, a spirited Latina tween who is used to spending her time showing off her swimming skills at the local pool. Then one day she sees a synchronized swimming performance by the LA Mermaids and is captivated. Despite her parents’ worries that the sport puts too much emphasis on beauty ideals, Nat is determined to make a place for herself on the team. Barely Floating is a story that celebrates body positivity, community, and the power that comes from never giving up on your dreams.

Check & Mate
By Ali Hazelwood
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (November 2023)
Grade Level: 8–12

This delightfully charming YA romance brings two rival chess players together in a battle of wits. After the sport destroyed her family four years ago, Mallory refuses to pick up a chess piece again. At least, until she agrees to play in a charity tournament, where she ends up beating the reigning champion: Nolan Sawyer. Despite her vow to walk away from the world of chess, Mallory finds herself falling deeper into the competition—but is it the game, or Nolan himself, that’s drawing her in?

By Jessixa Bagley
Illustrated by Aaron Bagley
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (November 2023)
Grade Level: 3–6

This middle-grade graphic novel touches on themes of grief, sisterhood, and complex family dynamics. Sisters Lucy and GiGi have never been close, but ever since their dad died, they’ve been fighting constantly. The one thing they have in common is fencing, which their dad used to teach them, but Lucy stopped practicing after his death. After GiGi humiliates Lucy in the cafeteria on the first day of school, Lucy decides it’s time to settle their rivalry once and for all, and challenges her sister to a duel. As both sisters prepare for the match, will they find a way to heal the rift between them?

Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy
By Faith Erin Hicks
First Second (October 2023)
Grade Level: 9–12

In this heartfelt graphic novel, Alix finds her invitation to the Canada National Women’s Under-18 Team’s summer camp jeopardized due to a heated argument with her hockey teammate. Seeking guidance on how to control her temper, she turns to Ezra, a drama student who is well-known for his calm demeanour. This is a story about unexpected friendship, personal growth, and the power of embracing one’s true self. It also subverts traditional gender roles, making it a remarkable read for all.

Kid Olympians: Summer
By Robin Stevenson
Illustrated by Allison Steinfeld
Quirk Books (January 2024)
Grade Level: 3–7

Discover fascinating and entertaining stories of young athletes from all over the world in Kid Olympians. It’s packed with vibrant illustrations and engaging text that will captivate young readers and encourage them to dream big. Featuring a variety of physically and racially diverse Olympians and Paralympians such as Simone Biles, Tatyana McFadden, and Yusra Mardini, this book is sure to inspire and uplift.

Lila Goes for Gold
By Erin Falligant
Illustrated by Vivienne To
American Girl Publishing (January 2024)
Grade Level: 3–4

Meet Lila, a confident gymnast and American Girl’s 2024 Girl of the Year! She’s going to riding camp for some fun with her best friend and fellow gymnast, Katie. However, the two friends have hit a bit of a rough patch and are disagreeing on everything. Plus, Lila just found out that her favourite coach might be leaving. With the Gold level gymnastics team on the line, Lila will have to find a way to work things out with Katie and make it through this challenging time. Join Lila on her journey of friendship, perseverance, and the pursuit of her gymnastics dreams!

Lily Parr Scores!
By Lindsay Galvin
Illustrated by Chiara Fedele
Collins (January 2024)
Grade Level: 1–3

Be inspired through the story of Lily Parr, one of the greatest football (soccer) players to ever grace the pitch. At just 14 years old, Lily was already showcasing her skills for one of England’s top football teams. When World War I erupted, however, her life took an unexpected turn. This captivating book delves into how Lily and her fellow teammates challenged societal norms and proved that women deserved the right to play football.

Lion on the Inside: How One Girl Changed Basketball
By Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir and Judith Henderson
Illustrated by Katherine Ahmed
Kids Can Press (September 2023)
Grade Level: K–3

Lion on the Inside tells the true story of trailblazing Muslim American basketball player Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, who fought to earn a place on the court for women wearing hijabs. This biographical picture book follows her journey from basketball enthusiast to star athlete, and then to inspiring activist, once she chose to walk away from professional basketball because the international rules wouldn’t allow her to wear her hijab. Since then, Bilqis has dedicated her time to advocating for young Muslin women in sports.

Match Point!
By Maddie Gallegos
First Second (September 2023)
Grade Level: 5–8

In this heartwarming and diverse middle-grade graphic novel, two girls bond over the sport of racquetball. Rosie is tired of trying to live up to the expectations of her dad, who keeps pushing his racquetball hobby onto her. When new kid Blair moves into town, she quickly becomes a distraction for all the tension Rosie is avoiding at home. Together, the two of them encourage each other and learn that it’s not so hard to take on the world with a friend by your side.

Meet Clara Hughes
By Elizabeth MacLeod
Illustrated by Mike Deas
Scholastic Canada (January 2024)
Grade Level: 1–4


Clara Hughes, a renowned Canadian sports personality, has the remarkable achievement of being the only person in the world to have won multiple medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Clara’s admiration for Olympic speed skater Gaétan Boucher inspired her to make the life-changing decision of competing in two different sports in the Olympics. However, after realizing that her happiness was not proportional to her achievements, Clara began putting in extra effort to prioritize her mental health. This book offers an insightful look into the life of an extraordinary athlete who has made significant contributions to the world of sports and beyond.

Mikaela Shiffrin: Olympic Skiing Legend
By Mari Bolte
Capstone Press (August 2023)
Grade Level: 3–4

In this brief biography, young readers will learn all about Mikaela Shiffrin, an American skiing legend who holds the most World Cup wins of any alpine skier in history. She’s also a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist. Follow along on her journey from youngest champion of Olympic slalmon skiing to her competition in three more Olympic games, and the challenges she faced along the way.  

Out of Our League: 16 Stories of Girls in Sports
Edited by Dahlia Adler and Jennifer Iacopelli
Feiwel & Friends (January 2024)
Grade Level: 8–12

This YA anthology features diverse teen athletes from various sports, showcasing their unique strengths and abilities. Through 16 short stories, readers will witness the power of teamwork, camaraderie, and the valuable lessons learned by these young athletes. The book skillfully tackles issues such as misogyny, while also highlighting the importance of sisterhood, and the impressive physical and emotional capabilities of teenage athletes.

Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World
By Vivian Kirkfield
Illustrated by Alison Jay
Calkins Creek (February 2024)
Grade Level: 2–5

This captivating non-fiction picture book is a must-read for cycling enthusiasts, budding adventurers, and anyone who dreams of reaching a difficult goal. In the 1890s, Annie Londonderry, in need of financial support, stumbled upon an irresistible offer: a $10,000 reward for any woman who could cycle around the world in a year. Join Annie on a thrilling journey as she overcomes numerous obstacles and ultimately proves that women can achieve anything they set their minds to.

The Soccer Diaries, Book 1: Rocky Takes L.A.
By Tom Palmer
Rebellion (September 2023)
Grade Level: 5–7

This is the first book in a new series starring Rocky Race, 14-year-old football extraordinaire of the U.K. When she gets invited to attend a prestigious soccer camp in California, Rocky jumps at the opportunity. But she finds a strange world waiting for her across the ocean. In America, it’s a whole new ball game—literally, as Americans call it soccer instead of football—and Rocky must confront fake friends, her own anxieties, and a very different set of rules in order to succeed.

Soccer Strike!
By Thomas Kingsley Troupe
Illustrated by Brett Curzon
Seahorse Publishing (November 2023)
Grade Level: K–2

If you’re looking for a fun early chapter book to get young students interested in both reading and sports, this might be it! Li wants to become a skilled goalie, but she’s scared of the ball. Soccer Strike! showcases Li’s journey in an approachable way, teaching kids that although learning new skills can be scary, it can also be a lot of fun. Downloadable teacher’s notes are available to help you incorporate this book into your lesson plans as well.

Swimming into Trouble
By Angela Ahn
Illustrated by Julie Kim
Tundra Books (February 2024)
Grade Level: 1–4

Julia Nam loves swimming. Her favourite place to be is in the community centre pool—it’s much more fun than sitting behind the counter of her parents’ sushi restaurant, at least. She’s the youngest member of her local swim team and is hoping to soon qualify for a regional swim meet, until she comes down with an ear infection that means she can’t swim for the next ten days. Desperate to get back in the water, she makes a choice that lands her in a bit of trouble. Will she be able to rely on her teammates and other people at the community centre to get her out of it?

By Ali Bryan
DCB Young Readers (May 2024)
Grade Level: 9–12

Inspired by her own two daughters’ experiences with discrimination in the sport of wrestling, Ali Bryan wrote this riveting story about bravery, vulnerability, passion, and the lengths one girl will go to for her family. Sixteen-year-old Rowan Harper is training hard for an international wrestling tournament, where she’ll have the chance to be noticed by college recruiters and potentially earn a scholarship. But when she learns of a costly experimental treatment that could help her father with his ALS, Rowan falls into cage-fighting instead, in order to make some money at an illegal underground fight club. With her wrestling career on the line, will Rowan be able to overcome the challenges in front of her while still fighting for the people she loves? 

Traveling Shoes: The Story of Willye White, US Olympian and Long Jump Champion
By Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrated by Keith Mallett
Calkins Creek (October 2023)
Grade Level: 2–5

Traveling Shoes looks at the life of track and field athlete Willye B. White, who won medals in the Olympic games of 1956 and 1964. Through a spectacular combination of poetry, prose, and illustrations, Alice Faye Duncan and Keith Mallett show young readers how Willye went from working in the Mississippi cotton fields to competing overseas in the Olympics. Through it all, her mantra was “I believe in me.” This previously-untold story of persistence, tenacity, and the importance of believing in oneself will be a source of motivation to kids and adults alike.

Unstoppable! My Journey from World Champion to Athlete A to 8-Time NCAA National Gymnastics Champion and Beyond 
By Maggie Nichols
Roaring Brook Press (January 2024)
Grade Level: 9–12

In her inspirational memoir, elite-level gymnast Maggie Nichols shares her story of abuse under the U.S. national gymnastics team, and how she managed to redefine herself in the face of adversity. Her memoir covers the sexual abuse scandal that took place behind the scenes in one of America’s most celebrated sports institutions, and how Maggie risked everything for justice. It is a tale of hope, trauma, and, ultimately, triumph.