Monday, July 11, 2011


Do you ever think about all of the important stuff that has never occurred to you to think about? I guess that is kind of a weird question-- but really, do you ever come across a book, or article, or something that makes you stop and say, "Hmm, I never thought about that, or at least I never thought about it in that context, but it really is kind of important."

Take bicycles, for instance. Have you ever stopped to think about the role bicycles played in the women's rights movement? I hadn't, or at least I hadn't until I read WHEELS OF CHANGE: HOW WOMEN RODE THE BICYCLE TO FREEDOM (WITH A FEW FLAT TIRES ALONG THE WAY) by Sue Macy.

In WHEELS OF CHANGE, Macy traces the history of the bicycle, from its earliest times, but focuses particularly on how it has impacted women in the United States-- everything from transportation/freedom, to women's health, to women's clothing (long bulky hoopskirts simply weren't very practical on a bicycle, thus the invention of the bloomer and/or shorter skirt lengths).

WHEELS OF CHANGE is a typical National Geographic book- gorgeously designed with tons of interesting photographs (I especially loved the one of four African American bicyclists riding their bikes on the Alameda Avenue bridge in Denver), paintings, and publications from that era, as well as glossaries, a timeline, etc. Short features between each chapter provide additional information- biographies of famous women cyclists such as Madame Curie, cycling slang, and how the bicycle was used in advertising. I also loved the forward about how bicycles have changed the lives of women in modern day Africa.

This is a definitely a book for upper grade/middle/high school or older readers. It's pretty long (over 90 pages) and densely packed with great primary source information. If I taught high school American history or women's studies, I could see reading aloud different chunks and talking about other inventions that have had a similar impact on history.

I also think, however, that younger readers would enjoy looking at the great photographs and memorabilia from that time period. I loved the shorter, usually one page pieces between chapters. The biographies of Amelia Jenks Bloomer, Frances Willard, Alice Austen (sometimes compared to Civil War photographer Matthew Brady) and Denver cyclist Dora Rinehart would be great mentor texts for intermediate grade writers. I could also see myself using some of the other shorter chunks of text to help kids understand text structure.

When I see National Geographic on the front of a book, I know the book will be terrific- accurate, interesting, and lots of great visuals. WHEELS OF CHANGE definitely fulfills all of those expectations.

Review copy provided by publisher

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