Book Review: Basketball Belles

Author: Sue Macy
Illustrator: Matt Collins
Publisher: Holiday House (February 2011)
Audience: Ages 7 to 11
Source: F & G from ALA MidWinter 
Non-fiction * Women's History * Sports

Description from GoodReads:
This dynamic picture book about the birth of women's basketball will keep young readers riveted. Raised on a cattle ranch, Agnes Morley was sent to Stanford University to learn to be a lady. Yet in no time she exchanged her breeches and spurs for bloomers and a basketball; and in April 1896 she made history. In a heart—pounding game against the University of California at Berkeley, Agnes led her team to victory in the first-ever intercollegiate women's basketball game, earning national attention and putting women's basketball on the map.

Let me start off by saying, I am not a sports fan - especially not a basketball fan - but this book won me over.  Well, I'm still not a basketball fan but I am happy to be a cheerleader for Basketball Belles: How Two Teams And One Scrappy Player Put Women's Hoops On The Map.  While at ALA Midwinter, I managed to come away with a stack of F & G's (Folded & Gathered - think Advanced Reader's Copy but for picture books) from various publishers.  As I read them, I made stacks - the "well it is okay" stack, the "I definitely can use this" stack, and the "Wow! Oh Wow!" stack. There were only about 2 or 3 in the "Wow! Oh Wow!" stack and Basketball Belles was one of them. 

With Matt Collins amazing illustrations, I was immediately whisked back into the late 1890's.  Macy's story of Agnes Morley who was sent to Stanford in an attempt to make her "more of a lady" captured for me what it must have been like for a woman in that time period.  Having spent four years in the Amherst/Northampton area and surrounded by the rich history of women's colleges (Smith, Mt. Holyoke) it was exciting for me to read about this other piece of women's history.  By focusing on the April 4, 1896 historic game between Stanford and Berkley, Macy is able to delve deeply into what that experience must have been like for not only the players but for the spectators as well.  

Admittedly, despite Macy's well written text and powerful words, I had to read this story through several times because for the first one or two read throughs I was so caught up in Collin's illustrations.  Initially, I was just trying to imagine what it would be like to wear the kinds of clothes they had to wear in those days.  The long sleeve tunics and bloomers not to mention the shoes.  His attention to details fully enhances the text and captures the reader.

Skip the italicized part if you don't want to be spoiled (well we all know how the game was played after all in 1896), but this ending text very much sums up the book beautifully:

"Victory is ours!  We laugh and hug one another, beside
ourselves with joy.  We even give a cheer for the other team,
and they for us.  What a sight we all are!  Our hair is messy.
Our bloomers are torn.  Our faces are streaked with sweat.
This might not be what my mother had in mind when she sent
me to Stanford to become a lady. But I think that a lady can be 
tough and strong as well as refind and polite.  She can even
play basketball." - Sue Macy, Basketball Belles

As I mentioned earlier, this is a "Wow! Oh, Wow!" book for me.  I bought a copy for me, for a friend, for the school library, and keep shouting about it to anyone who will listen.  I hope that this book earns the recognition that it deserves.