Lynn: Reading for Bookends is a very humbling job. I am always finding books about subjects I know nothing about—but should! Pioneering female sportswriter Mary Ellen Garber is a prime example. Thankfully, there’s Miss Mary Reporting: the True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber (2016) by Sue Macy.
Born in 1916, Mary Ellen Garber loved sports. Much to her mother’s dismay, when Mary wasn’t playing sports, she was reading about them. Early on, Mary decided to be a sports reporter, but she started out writing for the society pages. Then WWII came along, American men went overseas, and Mary was given a shot at sportswriting for the Twin City Sentinel. In 1985, she moved to the Winston-Salem Journal, a position she held well after her official retirement in 1986—she wrote her last article in 2002!
I knew nothing about this quietly courageous woman who broke into a field that still employs very few women. Garber was similarly brave in the civil rights arena, ignoring the strict color barriers of the time to report on black athletes in black schools. In the end, she won many awards and even had one named for her: the Mary Garber Pioneer Award, given annually to a female sportswriter. Macy’s lively text and well-chosen anecdotes do a terrific job of introducing this appealing and admirable woman to young readers—and to older ones like me.
Cindy: I’d not heard of Mary Garber either, but Lynn and I are both very familiar with Sue Macy’s excellent writing, Her latest book doesn’t disappoint.
C. F. Payne provides top-notch illustrations, starting with a cover that features a diminutive lady dwarfed by oversized male figures. The drawings help accentuate Mary’s discomfort with society reporting, as well her gratitude for a fan who helped her identify the players during her first college football assignment. A scene of her standing alone on the street after the game, the only reporter not allowed into the locker room, emphasizes the terrible isolation of her position.
That Macy was able to pack so many important issues into this book while keeping the story completely engaging shows tremendous talent. Classroom teachers at all levels will be able to use this book as a springboard for short research projects and argumentative writing. The author’s note would be a great place for students to start. It closes with this gem of an anecdote:
“During her final months a minister asked Mary what she hoped would be her ‘spiritual reward in heaven.’ She immediately had an answer: ‘Football season.'”
Although the book seems to be targeted towards the second- to fourth-grade set, I’m definitely buying copies for both of my middle schools; it will be a great addition to my seventh-grade nonfiction picture book research project. I’m also eager to hand it over to a few girls who only want to read about sports, particularly women in sports. I may have some budding Mary Garber’s in my schools, and I hope you do, too.