They Came, They Saw, They Kicked Butt: 10 Books About Girls Who Play Sports

P.N. Hinton

Contributing Editor

Born into a family of readers, P.N. gained a love reading as a sort of herd mentality. This love of reading has remained a life long passion, resulting in an English Degree from The University of Houston in Houston, Texas. She normally reads three to four books at any given time, in the futile Sisyphean hope of whittling down her ever growing to be read pile of no specific genre.

Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez, new from Algonquin Young Readers.

A Reese’s Book Club YA Pick. A powerful, #ownvoices contemporary YA for fans of The Poet X and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. In Argentina, Camila lives a double life. At home, she's a careful daughter. On the soccer field, she's La Furia, a powerhouse of skill. And now, the boy she once loved is back in town, but Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by him. As her life becomes more complicated, she's forced to face her secrets and put everything on the line—even her blooming love story— to follow her dreams.

I have never been a coordinated person. While I did play basketball for one year in 4th grade, I wasn’t what you would call great. It was just a somewhat exciting thing to do after school that gave my family members and myself a break from one another. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t wanted to play sports over the years: I tried out for basketball again in 8th grade but didn’t make the cut. The reason was, to be blunt, because I was slow and round. I thought about trying out for wrestling in high school, but my orchestra teacher nipped that in the bud. That was fair since I was one of the best violists.

Over the years, I’ve still had dreams about becoming a wee bit more athletic. After watching Whip It, I entertained the notion of a career as a roller derby girl. Then I remembered that I can’t skate. Le sigh. Never one to let things like that keep me down too long, I now take the mindset that those who can’t do read about those that can. I may not be a super athlete, but I can read about people who are, specifically about girls in athletics. And let’s be completely honest here: there are people in the world of sports who, if they could, would hang up a big “NO GIRLS ALLOWED” sign.

Forget. That. Noise. Girls just have as much a right to play ports as boys do. And even though it took a long time to get there and there are still hurdles that need to be surmounted, they have claimed their space. Below is a list of women and girls in various types of sports. They came, they saw, they kicked butt and earned their place. You’ll cry with them, cheer with them, and share in their successes.

Early Readers

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray

Gymnast Nadia Comaneci is most well known for receiving seven perfect 10 scores at the 1976 Olympic Games. This book focuses primarily on her younger years when she was known as the little girl who couldn’t sit still. Nadia took this boundless energy that had her climbing trees growing up in Romania to her unprecedented performance. This picture book gives young readers insight into her journey and serve as an inspiration to not let anyone tell them they cannot achieve their dreams.

Mamie on the Mound by Leah Henderson

As inspiring as A League of Their Own is even 28 years later, the All-American League was still a white women only organization. Female baseball players of color were still very much unwelcome on the baseball diamond. Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was one such player until 1953. That’s when she signed to pitch for the Negro Leagues Indianapolis Clowns and became the first female pitcher to play on a professional men’s team. She played for them for three years, earning an outstanding 33-8 record, and helped to break ground for female athletes everywhere.

Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion by Heather Lang

This picture book follows track and field star Alice from her humble beginnings in rural Georgia to her triumph at London’s Wembley Stadium in the 1948 Summer Olympics. There she broke the color and gender barrier by coming the first female athlete to win an Olympic Gold Medal. She even got to shake hands with the King of England! This book is a perfect addition for any child’s library, to inspire them to keep on trying no matter what kind of physical or metaphorical hurdles are in their path.

Middle Grade

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson cover image

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Best friends Astrid and Nicole have always done everything together. So when Astrid signs up for roller derby summer camp, she assumes that Nicole will too. Instead, Nicole signs up for dance camp with a new friend, leaving Astrid alone. Through the bumps and bruises that go in hand with being a derby girl, Astrid begins to learn who she is without Nicole and discovers how resilient she can be.

Proud: Living My American Dream (Young Readers Edition) by Ibtihaj Muhammad

Ibtihaj was used to being the only Muslim in her New Jersey school as well as the only one at fencing tournaments. Despite the discrimination she faced, she persevered and became the first Muslim American to woman to complete in a hijab and win a medal at the Olympics. This young reader’s version of the adult memoir is sure to delight and inspire young readers who may find themselves in similar situations.

Baseball’s Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues by Andrea Williams

This book is based on the true story of Effa Manely, who was co-owner and business manager of the Newark Eagles back when baseball was still segregated. Through hard work and perseverance, she helped the Eagles reach the pinnacle of their potential as a team.

Just as they were reaching their stride, the country called for baseball to become integrated, which essentially meant the end of the Negro Leagues. This could have been the end of what we know about Effa as well, but her importance wasn’t forgotten: she became the first and only woman inducted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I’m adding this as an “honorable mention” since Effa didn’t play the sport professionally herself. She did play as a child and her place in the baseball history should be acknowledged.

Young Adult

Broken Beautiful Hearts by Kami Garcia

When Peyton Rios receives an offer from her first choice college, senior year starts off an a high note. Then she uncovers her boyfriend’s dark secrets and, after confronting him, falls down a flight of stairs. This shatters her knees and endangers her pro soccer playing dreams.

She goes to stay with her uncle in a small Tennessee town to recover and ends up meeting Owen Law. Peyton is slow to trust this new sweet but mysterious boy as she is still recovering from her heartbreak, and she senses that Owen is also harboring a secret. When those secrets are exposed, both must decide if their love is worth the fight.

Gravity by Sarah Deming

Gravity Delgado finds a family she never expected when she walks into Brooklyn boxing gym Cops ‘n Kids. She also finds a love and skill for boxing that could give her a shot at the Olympics, provided she can focus on the sport and not get distracted by two new love interests and other hurdles in her path. Readers will appreciate this inspiring story of a girl who aspires for greatness and more than the world thinks she deserves. 

The Avant-Guards by Carly Usdin

This graphic novel series introduces us to Charlie, recent transfer to the Georgia O’Keeffe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics. Charlie, who is a former sports star, struggles to find her place among these artists and is determined to leave her basketball life behind.

Then she becomes charmed by Liv, the team captain and her ragtag team of recruits. While she originally wanted to leave that world of cut-throat sports behind, she may discover the person she wants to be while running down the court.

Game. Set. Match. by Jennifer Iacopelli

Outer Banks Tennis Academy, located across the North Carolina coast, is one of the most prestigious training facilities for future tennis stars. The rivalries and tensions run high though since futures can either be forged or shattered here.

This first book in the Outer Banks Tennis Academy series introduces us to future tennis hopefuls Penny, Jasmine, and newcomer Indiana as they strive to make their marks in the world of tennis.

This list is but a small dip into the pool of fierce female athletes, both real and fictional. Check out this other impressive list of some of the best YA sports books. Let us know others we may have missed over on Facebook and Twitter!