A Mighty Girl's top picks of children's books about female Olympians, from gymnastics greats to soccer stars!
With the Tokyo Olympic Games about to begin, Mighty Girls around the world will be looking on — and dreaming of standing on the podium to claim their own gold medal one day! A century ago, only 65 women competed in the Olympics, making up only 2.5% of Olympic athletes; at this year's Tokyo 2020 summer games, almost 49% of competitors are women, setting a new record for women's participation at the Olympics. It's never been a more exciting time for women in sports or for girls who dream of going to the Olympics someday.
In celebration of this year's Olympic Games, we're sharing a selection of biographies about female Olympians, past and present! These determined athletes often faced discrimination — sometimes on multiple fronts — in their quest for the podium, but their courage and grit made them heroes around the world. From the women of the early modern Olympic games to today's athletic greats, their stories will inspire young readers to stand up, fight hard, and play like a girl!
For more books featuring female athletes throughout history, visit our Sports Book Collection.
Mighty Girl Books About Female Olympians
Hayley Wickenheiser is one of the greatest hockey players in the world — but she started as a player like anyone else, gearing up for cold winter morning practices. Except when Hayley started playing, there weren't any girls' teams, and Hayley had to play with the boys. As a teenager, she became the youngest player on Team Canada, but she proved herself, and soon she had won two Olympic gold medals, and as her team steps out on the ice once more, she knows they can make history again. This inspiring story from the I Can Read early reader series will enthrall young hockey fans and would-be Olympians!
When Alice Coachman was born, a Black girl in rural Georgia certainly wasn't going to be a world-class athlete. She had to overcome stereotypes about women and about African-Americans in order to earn a place on the 1948 Olympic team. As thousands of spectators watched, members of the US track and field women's team went down to defeat one by one... until Alice Coachman ruled the high jump event and became the first Black woman to ever win a gold medal. This inspiring story depicts a woman determined to overcome every obstacle, both the physical bar she had to leap and the metaphorical ones she faced on her way there. For another great book about Coachman, check out Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper for ages 4 to 8.
When Ethelda Bleibtrey was born, girls and women might paddle in the water, but few of them really swam. But after she contracted polio, she discovered that swimming reduced her pain and helped her rebuild her lost muscle. From that moment, she was determined to swim whenever she could! She had to fight antiquated ideas about women in the water; she even got arrested for "nude swimming" when she took her stockings off at one pool! But her work — including her three Olympic gold medals and her multiple world records — inspired people around the world. This exuberant picture book celebrates a trailblazer for women's swimming who knew how to make a splash.
As a child, Simone Biles was a bundle of unchannelled energy, trying to find a place to belong during her time in foster care. When her grandparents adopted her, they thought gymnastics might give her a place to thrive — and they were right! Soon, she was racing through new skills, "shooting off the vault / like a rocket blast." Her path wasn't always easy — she even missed getting on the national team at first — but the same resilience and determination that drove her as a child would eventually help her make her way to the gold medal podium at the 2016 Olympics! This lyrical picture book biography celebrates talent, perseverance, and the importance of a supportive family through they eyes of one of the greatest athletes of our time.
When Wilma Rudolph was a child, a bout with polio left doctors convinced she would never walk again. But the determined girl pushed herself as hard as she could, and by age 12, she had recovered he strength — and was so fast people nicknamed her "Skeeter" after a mosquito! She was only a college student when she had the chance of a lifetime: completing in the 1960 Olympic Games, where she won multiple sprint event gold medals and became a role model for women athletes everywhere! This stylish book from the Little People, BIG DREAMS series includes detailed back matter that will fascinate fans of this inspiring athlete. For another picture book about this inspiring athlete, check out Wilma Unlimited for ages 5 to 9.
When Nadia Comaneci was a girl, she was constantly in motion: from climbing trees to roller skating, she was busy and fearless! Finally, her mother signed her up for gymnastics lessons, where it turned out that she was a natural. But even a natural talent has to work hard to become the best in the world, and at her first Romanian Junior National Championships competition, she only reached 13th place. Still, Nadia persisted, and at the 1976 Olympic Games, she made history with a record-smashing seven perfect scores! The text and pictures of this book are as energetic as its subject, and an afterword includes details about Comaneci's later life.
Megan Rapinoe grew up in Redding, California, chasing a soccer ball "like a wild animal" on the school playground. Although she didn't always fit in at school, she always knew where she should be on the field, and her teammates looked up to her for leadership. After years of diligent practice, she won a place on the United States Women's National Team, eventually being named co-captain and leading her teammates to Olympic Gold and World Cup victory. And she also used her fame to fight for causes that were important to her, like LGBTQ rights and gender equality in sports. This empowering book features from the Little People, BIG DREAMS series is a colorful, inspiring look at on of America's heroes!
Trudy Ederle starting swimming young — just as competitive swimming was becoming a women's sport. Still, many people believed there was no way a woman could be as fast as a man. At the 1924 Paris Olympics, when she was only 17 years old, she won three medals... but she wasn't done. She set her sights on a new goal: swimming the English Channel, something only five men had ever managed to do. On the day she was set to swim, the Channel was so rough that she had to swim 35 miles instead of the 21 miles straight across. Still, she finished her swim in fourteen hours and 39 minutes — almost two hours faster than the fastest male swimmer — setting a world record! This uplifting picture book celebrates a trailblazer for women in sports who refused to be told what she couldn't do. For another book about Ederle, we recommend Trudy's Big Swim for ages 5 to 9.
Imagine being told that you would never be able to achieve your dreams — and doing it anyway! The third book in the best-selling She Persisted series celebrates women athletes who have dared to defy stereotype, prove their mettle, and take home gold. Featuring athletes past and present, including Gertrude Ederle, Wilma Rudolph, Mia Hamm (and her 1996 Olympic soccer teammates), Ibtihaj Muhammad, and many more, this book is a tribute to the girls and women who have excelled in sports and paved the way for millions of girls to come after them. For the littlest readers, this book is also available in a board book edition with simplified text.
When Betty Robinson was spotted running for a train, she was invited to join a high school boys' track team — and proved she had the speed to succeed. At only 16, she ran in the 1928 Olympics, the first one that allowed women to compete in track and field, and she won gold, become famous around the world. She set her sights on more records... but when her biplane crashed, leaving her severely injured, she was told she'd never run again. Robinson refused to give up, though, and relearned how to stand, walk, and run — and won another gold in the 1936 Olympic Games. This inspirational biography celebrates the unbeatable spirit of this pioneering champion who knew that "All that matters is the runner and the track."
Years ago, two sisters named Venus and Serena Williams joined their father early in the morning on a litter-strewn tennis court to play. Before long, they've attracted their first onlookers: a group of local older boys who are impressed by the sisters' determination and drive. As time goes on, they attract more attention, and as they rise through the tennis world, they win even more fans. But as they devote themselves to their sport, they face many challenges: studying late at night, injuries, and the stares of people who have never seen Black girls dominate tennis before. Still, wherever they go, they always know they can rely up each other. This touching dual biography celebrates both the Williams' historic influence on their sport and the powerful bond of sisterhood.
Lucile "Ludy" Godbold was six feet tall and skinny as a pole... and she was an athlete like nobody had seen before. Her long, strong arms made the ball fly when she tried shotput at Winthrop College in South Carolina, and she easily qualified for the first ever Women's Olympics in Paris in 1922. Ludy didn't have the money to go, but fortunately, her classmates and college were determined to get Long-Armed Ludy to Paris — where she won her event by a foot! Based on a true story about a little known athlete, and full of charming, folksy language, this picture book biography will get kids cheering.
Florence Griffith Joyner showed athletic talent from an early age, but there were many obstacles to overcome before she could achieve her dreams. The first time she qualified for the Olympics, America boycotted the event, so she couldn't go. But she kept training, and won a silver medal in 1984 and three gold medals in 1988! And during her 1988 Olympic performance, she set two world records — records that still stand today. In this illustrated chapter book from the She Persisted series, inspired by Chelsea Clinton's enormously popular picture book, kids will learn all about Flo Jo and how she fought to become one of America's greatest athletes.
A girl named Yusra dreams of swimming at the Olympics someday, and devotes countless hours to training. When war breaks out in her home country of Syria, her dreams have to get put on hold as she and her sister try to figure out how to flee to safety. They pay smugglers for a chance to ride a boat to Greece, but the inflatable's engine fails in the middle of the sea, threatening everyone on board. Yusra dives into the water to pull the boat — and becomes an international sensation. And not too long after, she finally achieves her Olympic dream, competing for the first ever refugee team. Told in spare quatrains of poetry, with dramatic illustrations that capture the destruction and hardship of war, this stunning picture book biography of Olympic swimmer and Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini is a powerful story about resilience, determination, and hope.
Today, girls across the country participate in every kind of sport — but it wasn't that long ago that girls were told that physical activity was "unladylike," inappropriate, or even dangerous. In this inspiring title, young readers will learn about the daring women — both athletes and politicians — who fought for women in sports to be taken seriously. Beginning with the first modern Olympic Games, author Debbie Gonzalez introduces readers to pioneering women like Althea Gibson, Donna de Varona, Gertrude Ederle, and more. Then, she introduces the historic Title IX legislation that mandated equal treatment and changed the rules of the game for female athletes. This sweeping overview of the evolution of women's sports is sure to fascinate young readers who can't imagine not being able to go out and play.
Simone Biles exploded on to the scene with a stunning performance in the 2016 Olympic Games that won her four Olympic gold medals! In this book from the Trailblazers biography series, kids can read all about her path to the international gymnastics stage: her search for a home after spending time in foster care, discovering a passion for her sport, and realizing that her determination and strength could make her a superstar. With a timeline and a list of further reading at the back, this is the perfect book to inspire readers to remember that, like Simone says, "We always have more to give."
Laurie Hernandez took her first gymnastics class when she was six years old, and it quickly became obvious that she was a natural! In 2016, America thrilled to see her performances in both the team and individual beam competitions at the Rio Olympics. But you don't get to be a 16-year-old Olympic medalist without some bumps along the way, and in this memoir, Hernandez talks about Olympic dreams, family sacrifices, intense training, and the fear that she would lose it all when her progress stalled due to multiple injuries. With never-before-seen photos, and a new update that includes details about her training regimen for the 2020 Olympic Games, this book will inspire young readers everywhere!
When she was growing up, Alex Morgan knew she wanted to go to the Olympics — even before she knew which sport she wanted to play! When she fell in love with soccer, she wrote a note to her mother declaring that she was going to be a professional player someday. In this exciting biography from the Epic Athletes series, best-selling author Dan Wetzel tells the story of how Morgan rose to become a major player on the international sporting stage. With comic-style illustrations from Cory Thomas, and compelling writing that makes you feel like you're on the field next to her, this thrilling book is perfect for both long-time and new fans of Morgan and the US Women's National Team. For another biography of this soccer star, check out Amazing Athletes: Alex Morgan for ages 7 to 10.
As kids, Venus and Serena Williams learned to play tennis from their parents, practicing on a neighborhood court, but it was obvious they had the talent to excel! They fought their way up the tennis ranks — even when facing racism and sexism along the way — and they both became World Number One ranked players and Grand Slam titles winners. They've even both won four gold medals at the Summer Olympic Games! This inspiring dual biography from the Who Was biography series brings the story of these two athletes to life.
Whether they're breaking records, overcoming obstacles, or challenging the world to see women athletes in a new light, one thing is for sure: women athletes have got game! In this collection of capsule biographies, you'll meet a diverse group of athletes who pursued their love of their sport and inspired girls around the world. Featuring groundbreaking figures like dancer Misty Copeland, parathlete Tatyana McFadden, soccer star and activist Megan Rapinoe, and many more, these stories will encourage young readers to follow their dreams in sport — whether they're continuing one they already love, or trying out something new!
Megan Rapinoe grew up in a small California town, learning both how to play soccer and how to fight for what was right. She rose through the ranks of national, then international soccer to become a member of the United States Women's National Team — and then, in 2016, she became the first high-profile white athlete to join Colin Kaepernik in taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. She's also fought for equal pay, joining her fellow USWNT athletes in a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, and advocated for LGBTQ rights. In this adaptation of her memoir One Life, kids can get to know Megan in her own words — and learn how they, too, can fight to make the world a better place.
Every world-class athlete is inspiring, but for some, the obstacles that lay in front of them seemed too much to overcome — until they did it. In this inspiring title from the Rising Above series, kids will meet ten groundbreaking women athletes who faced challenges ranging from entrenched racism and poverty, to illness and disability, to crises of confidence and body image. Despite it all, these women rose up and claimed their places in sports history. This book, which includes first-hand content from interviews, will delight young sports fans.
In this follow-up to her bestselling book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky shines a light on trailblazing athletes! From well-known figures like tennis player Billie Jean King and gymnast Simone Biles, to lesser-known champions like Toni Stone, the first woman to play baseball in a professional men's league, and skateboarding pioneer Patti McGee, these stories provide a unique look at groundbreaking female athletes of the past and present. Additional infographics cover fascinating details like a timeline of women's participation in sports, pay and media statistics for female athletes, and influential women's teams.
Before she was goalkeeper for the US Women's National Team, Hope Solo was a girl struggling with an absentee father, poverty and homelessness, and then a difficult stepfather. Soccer became her escape, and her natural talent allowed her to rise up the ranks. She also rebuilt relationships with family members on her way to both Olympic gold and World Championship titles. This fascinating look at a gifted athlete who overcame great adversity just to play captures both Solo's fearlessness and her flaws, providing an intriguingly complex look at this world-class player. Older teen and adult readers can check out the original autobiography, Solo: A Memoir of Hope.
When Carli Lloyd scored a hat trick in the Women's World Cup final in 2015, she broke records and inspired the world, but at one point, she considered giving up her sport altogether. She struggled with self-doubts and low confidence, and wondered if she would ever have what it took to be an international level player. But with help from a good coach — and a lot of grit and determination — she pulled through, trained hard, and made history. This candid memoir provides young readers with an intriguing look inside the mind of a professional athlete. Older teens and adult readers can check out the original version of this memoir, When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World.
When Ibtihaj Muhammad was in school, she was the only African American Muslim student — and when she discovered a love of fencing, she stood out even more in a sport most popular with wealthy White people. Ibtihaj was fast and hardworking, but as she rose through the ranks, she faced constant scrutiny from those who insisted she was too different to succeed. Instead of listening to them, she persevered and became the first Muslim-American woman to medal at an Olympic Games. This young readers edition of Muhammad's memoir Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream will inspire kids with her determination, faith, and courage.
She was an All-American basketball player, won multiple Olympic gold medals in track and field, and an LPGA golf champion — and those were just a few of the sports that Babe Didrikson Zaharias played! At a time when women's sports were viewed with skepticism, Zaharias smashed stereotypes and broke records, providing inspiration to generations of athletes, both women and men. In this well-researched biography for young readers, Newbery Medal-winning author Russell Freedman introduces Zaharias' life and enduring legacy. Full of intriguing details and archival photos, this book is a phenomenal tribute to the woman who declared, "you can't win them all — but you can try." For another biography of this phenomenal athlete, we recommend Babe Conquers The World for ages 9 to 13.
Abby Wambach has always pushed the boundaries, achieving great feats — like the record for the most international goals scored in the history of soccer by either a man or a woman — and capturing the heart of a country as she helped lead the 2015 Women's National Team to victory in the FIFA Women's World Cup. But behind the professional successes were many struggles that fans didn't see, including a fight against addiction and fear about coming out as a lesbian. These struggles, though, have driven her to achieve as a professional athlete and as an advocate for equality and women's rights. This young readers edition of Wambach's book Forward: A Memoir is sure to delight young soccer fans.
When Alex Morgan joined the US Women's National Team, it was the fulfillment of a dream she'd had since she was 8: to be a professional soccer player. In this friendly memoir, Morgan remembers her time playing with the American Youth Soccer Organization, then joining the Olympic Development Program and the under-17 and under-20 World Championship teams. Morgan is up-front about some of the challenges she faced, from long-distance relationships to sports injuries, and provides a great look at what it's like to stay focused and positive as you rise through the ranks of the soccer world. Younger readers can check out the World Soccer Legends biography Alex Morgan for ages 7 to 12.
Aly Raisman was a toddler when she first stepped onto a gymnastics mat — but that "mommy and me" class was the start of an Olympic dream! In this honest memoir, Aly tells the story of her road to success, including the obstacles along the way: classmates who bullied her over her athletic body, moments of self-doubt, and the devastating betrayal when team doctor, Larry Nassar, sexually abused her. But she also chronicles the joys: supportive family, friends, and teammates; victories on the international stage; and perhaps most importantly, inner strength that lasted long after the medal ceremony was over. Incorporating unpublished photos and excerpts from her personal journals, this is an honest look at what it takes to be a champion — in sports and in life.
Paralympian Tatyana McFadden was born with spina bifida — and in a Russian orphanage, she received little medical care for the first three years of her life. Her adoptive parents were told not to expect her to live for long, but they were sure she could thrive. Not only did she survive, but and soon she started breaking athletic records in wheelchair racing! Today, McFadden is a ten-time summer Paralympic medalist (with one additional medal from the winter Paralympic games!) and an activist who is working to raise awareness of the inequity between able-bodied and para-athletic sports. She's always lived by the Russian expression "Ya sama" — "I can do it" — and with this book, young readers will believe that they can do it too!
Simone Biles is best known for her 25 World Championship medals, but getting there took perseverance and resiliency that many people didn't see. In her memoir, Biles talks about the challenges that faced her long before she had her sights set on the podium, from an early childhood in foster care to her adoption by her grandparents, who she now calls Mom and Dad. Their love and support helped her keep balanced as she rose through the ranks of gymnastics competition, ensuring that she always found joy in the sport in which she excelled. This optimistic and inspiring memoir will be a hit with anyone who finds themselves spellbound watching Biles soar to new heights.
In the 2012 London Olympics, Gabby Douglas stole the show in the gymnastics competition! She stunned both audiences and judges with her performances, leading the U.S. women's gymnastics team to a team gold and becoming the first African American gymnast in Olympic history to win the individual All-Around gold medal. Trolls may have mocked her natural hair, but she refused to let the naysayers dull her triumph. In this personal autobiography, Gabby tells young readers about her journey from the first day she walked into a gym to the performances that helped her set a record. She highlights the struggles she faced along the way, and describes how she turned to her family and her beliefs to overcome them. This powerful memoir is a celebration of courage and resilience that will inspire readers around the world! For another book about Douglas, we recommend Gabby Douglas: Golden Smile, Golden Triumph for ages 9 to 12.