Babe Conquers the World by Rich and Sandra Neil Wallace
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Lynn: Babe was one of the greatest athletes this world has ever seen. If you automatically think I mean Babe Ruth, you wouldn’t be alone but I mean another Babe – Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Sadly many people know very little about this truly astonishing athlete. I hope that this new book, Babe Conquers the World: The Legendary Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias (Calkins Creek, March 2014) will bring her story to a new generation.
Babe’s story is fascinating and the Wallaces tell it very well. They divide the book into Rounds and each round is Babe versus one of her many opponents such as Babe Versus The Boys or Babe Versus Her Team. Those labels are apt as Babe lived her life exactly like that – taking on the world head-on. In a time when women’s roles and opportunities were incredibly constrained, Babe refused to be limited. She threw herself into every challenge and dominated whatever she tried.
Born to Norwegian immigrants in 1911, Babe grew up poor in Beaumont, Texas, an oil refining town that was horrifyingly polluted. Neighbors remembered her as being the “neighborhood pest” and absolutely fearless. Even as a child she was driven to to be the best at whatever she took on. Babe took on a lot including basketball, golf, tennis, bowling, almost every track and field event and supporting her family. Along the way she demolished barriers for women, helped establish amateur and professional sports leagues for women and became one of the most famous and celebrated women of her time.
Babe was amazing and I was fascinated by her athletic prowess, her tremendous impact on women’s opportunities and by her determined and often abrasive personality. Babe knew who she was and she was never shy about telling the world how good she was. In the 1932 Olympics she said,
“I came out here to beat everybody in sight and that is…what I am going to do.”
She liked solo sports because she didn’t have to depend on a teammate and she was often disliked by her teammates. The Wallaces do an excellent job of giving readers a great sense of Babe and who she was, warts and all and I hope young readers will be as awed as I am at this truly gifted athlete who just happened to be a woman.
Cindy: I’ve been a Babe fan since I read about her in The Childhood of Famous Americans biography, Babe Didrikson: Girl Athlete as a child in the late 60s. I’m delighted to have the Wallace’s title to promote along with the Russell Freedman biography, Babe Didrikson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion (Clarion 1999).
Considering that Babe died in 1956 (and was fighting gender prejudice) it is amazing that she earned over a million dollars in her sports career…some of it while barnstorming! There are endless facts about her record-breaking and ground-breaking achievements and the odds that she overcame (winning the US Women’s Open golf tournament 10 months after cancer surgery after being told she’d never play championship level golf again, anyone?) and her indomitable spirit, her perseverance and her cocky attitude shine through in this spirited biography.
Here are a few quotes from Babe:
Before I was in my teens, I knew exactly what I wanted to be: I wanted to be the best athlete who ever lived.
The formula for success is simple: practice and concentration then more practice and more concentration.
It’s not enough just to swing at the ball. You’ve got to loosen your girdle and let ‘er fly.
The Babe is here. Who’s coming in second?
Common Core Connection:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
Babe’s high school director of physical education thought Babe was too short to play basketball. (p. 46) The Women’s Division of the National Amateur Athletic Federation worked in the 1920s ”trying to stop girls from competing in sports.” (p. 55) And the National Association of Secondary School Principals asserted that the “extremely strenuous physical and mental exertion and strain [of sports] are a menace to girls.” (p. 55)
Using evidence from Babe Conquers the World or other reference sources write an essay that supports or refutes a claim about the appropriateness of girls and women playing sports.