Sue Macy’s Nonfiction about Adventurous Women

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A woman, probably a performer, on a very early bicycle. State Library, Victoria College, January 20, 2011 via Flickr.

Sue Macy’s Social Histories and Children’s Biographies

Sue Macy is somewhat unusual in the Young Adult world as someone who has built up a reputation as a nonfiction writer by focusing on a relatively narrow genre: the history of women’s sports (for the most part).  Most of her books, especially her more recent ones, are also beautifully produced and published by the National Geographic Society.  

Not all of the books are equal in quality.  I personally do not care for the picture books.  The stories are too broad for a young child to understand, and format demands that so much of the story is omitted that they aren’t very interesting for older readers either. 

Some of Macy’s books, such as Breaking Through, are really good and enjoyable as quick reads for adults. See more about them below.

Breaking Through

Short Read


Macy seems to have hit upon a good formula with her latest book, Breaking Through, one I hope she continues.  Again, I find the format a little weird for the audience, but the focus of the book is narrow enough that the topic, the rise of women’s sports in the 1920’s, gets enough depth.  The thing that is really nice about this book although honestly, probably comes from US Common Core requirements, is that facsimiles of original articles covering events discussed in the book are included, so the reader gets primary and secondary information in one volume.  There is also a driving theme in this book about how an understanding of what women are capable of changed during this time.

Although this book is designed for upper elementary and middle school, it is also useful in high school as a supplementary reader…in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald showed the prominence of women in sports by making Nick’s girlfriend Jordan a golfer.

These two books, Wheels of Change and Motor Girls, have great production values due to the support of the National Geographic, but the scopes of both books are a bit scattered.

There is an imbalance between women who excelled at the sport or hobby and how cycling and driving changed the lives of women.  They are two very different things.  Although both books are beautifully designed and illustrated, they seem like a fancy version of those cheesy, formulaic series biographies that you only find in school libraries and are read when students need to write reports.  This seems like a very simply cosmetic makeover. 

This photo shows one of Macy’s large format books, which match the size of most of the books shown here, compared to a typical “trade paperback” sized book (Sally Ride).

Longer Books for young adults

These books are both older, but they are both still in print.  They are longer trade-paperback sized books.


Winning Ways

Short Read


This book is bigger in scope than Breaking Through in that it covers a longer period of history.  There is also a lot more text and fewer photos, but the ones that are included are stunning.


A Whole New Ball Game

Short Read

From what I can tell, this book was originally published about a year after the film A League of Their Own was released even though Macy worked on it for more than a dozen years.  The great thing about this book, which is in the same format as Winning Ways, is that she interviewed many of the women who played in the actual All American Girls Baseball League (AAGPBL), most of whom have probably passed away since this book was published in 1993. 

If you don’t know the classic movie based on the AAGPBL, A League of Their Own, check out the trailer:






YA Individual Biographies


I read each of these books in one sitting.  They are a little weird in that the format doesn’t quite jibe with the intended audience, which I would estimate as being for students between about 9 and 13.  I feel like the publishers actually overshot the mark as far as design here…I would have thought this book would work better in trade paperback format.  

If you can get over reading a picture book sized book for yourself, you will enjoy them.

Bylines: Nellie Bly

Short Read


I don’t know how well known Nellie Bly is in general, but if she isn’t, she should be.  She became famous very early in life for circling the globe in 72 days not long after Jules’ Verne’s fictional Around the World in Eighty Days was published.  She was also known for spending 10 days posing as a patient in a “Lunatic Asylum” known as Blackwell’s Island, which was worse than being in jail.  She also wrote numerous reports about working conditions for other women, which resulted in changes being made. 

I wasn’t aware of all of Bly’s work except for the most famous ones, but I also never realized that she did most of these things when she was a very young woman.  Later in life, after being widowed, she ran her husband’s corporation and attempted to institute fair employment practices.  In the end, however, her business was stolen from her by her own brother due to the actions of her mother after Bly got stranded in Europe during World War 1.  But of course, she used her time to be the first woman war correspondent.  So Nellie Bly lived a pretty active life…and a lot of her writings have survived and are available online for free.

Because this biography is short, it would pair perfectly with Nellie Bly’s own work, which is available in the public domain (free in digital format).

Free Read

Puddle Jumper

Free Read

Sustained Read

Around the World in 80 Days is also in the public domain and available for free in digital format.

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Bull’s Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley

Short Read

Bull’s Eye is an enlightening biography of Annie Oakley except it perhaps errs on the side of being too focused on her professional work and not enough on the philanthropy that is mentioned in the introduction. I personally had a lot of misconceptions about Annie Oakley that this book corrected: she strikes me as a woman who unapologetically went about her life doing something she started with out of necessity and continued with out of talent and business sense. She coupled that with what was a long and apparently fulfilling partnership with her husband, who trained her as an entertainer and then stepped aside and became her manager when her “star power” became apparent.  

Like several other of Macy’s books, the format is a bit off putting as its large size makes it look like a picture book for young children when actually the reading level is more for ages 8 and up with an interest level that goes well into middle school (although perhaps not the depth needed for ages 12 and 13.  This book, especially if it were in a smaller format, is great for teenagers who struggle with reading.  

Overall, it’s a well written, focused biography.

Sally Ride: Life on a Mission

Short Read

Sue Macy’s biography of Sally Ride is a normal “trade paperback” size book and part of a series called “A Real Life Story” that include other contemporary notables.

It is longer and a little more difficult to read than her other biographies.

By Preston Rivulettes – Public Domain. Women have played sports more than you might now, including these girls playing hockey in Canada.

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