Wheels of Change by Sue Macy
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: The full subtitle of Wheels of Change (National Geographic 2011) describes the book perfectly: “How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way).” There are no “flat tires” in the research, writing, and design of this thorough presentation of the bicycle’s importance to women in the late 1800s. Children today revel in getting their first tricycle, and later, removing their training wheels and zooming off leaving their parents behind in the driveway with a tear or two in their eyes. Teens view them more as a necessary evil while they spin their tires waiting for a driver’s license. But for women, the advent of the bicycle gave them a mode of transportation that enhanced their independence, provided some equality, and enabled them to have an outing with a suitor without a chaperone along…once the seat was redesigned so as not to impair future reproductive capabilities…or provide too much, um, stimulation. Macy presents a well-rounded picture of the technological developments, the impairments of women’s clothing, the cultural embracement of bicycles in song, advertising, and sport. There are also inspiring stories of women who embraced “wheels”…like Annie Cohen Kopschovsky who heard about a wager challenging a woman to ride around the world on a bicycle. Never mind that she had never ridden before, she took two quick lessons and then took off! Check out pages 68-69 to see how she fared!
I support a local charity that raises money all year to assemble deliver hundreds of bikes and helmets to an entire neighborhood each year. The goal of Elves and More is to provide independence and transportation to children and teens to get exercise and have a way to participate in extracurricular activities that might otherwise not be an option due to transportation issues. The emancipation for women that Macy describes in this book reminds me of that provided to children of need with this charity.
This fun, informational book will make a great addition to Macy’s already substantial contributions to books about women and sports but it will also provide curricular connections for teachers to ride away on with Women’s History Month just around the corner.
Lynn: I completely agree with Cindy on this book which, while most definitely a history of the bicycle, gives young readers an eye-opening focus on the repressive conditions for women and their journey toward equal rights. One of the most fascinating aspects is the information on fashion and the role the bicycle played in giving women the right to breathe! Teens will be astonished to learn that just a little more than 100 years ago, corsets quite literally made it difficult for a woman to draw a breath and could even displace her internal organs. Billowing heavy skirts and corsets made riding a bicycle almost impossible and devoted female riders helped usher in more humane garments. Bloomers anyone?
This is a beautifully designed book and the period photographs, advertisements, postcards and newspaper articles are a fascinating addition to the lively text. A very nice resource list of books and websites is provided as well as a great timeline. This is a very appealing package and sure to draw readers in. Be sure to take off the paper jacket and look at the wonderful cover. I can’t decide which one I like best!