Book about female sportswriter is a home run

Miss Mary ReportingThe summer before my freshman year of high school, I decided I wanted to be a sportswriter.

I devoured the sports section of my local newspaper, The Oshkosh Northwestern, and the sports section of The Milwaukee Sentinel. I also read Sports Illustrated magazine and books by Frank Deford, the sportswriting king of the day.

As soon as I could, I joined my high school newspaper, The North Star, where I eventually worked my way up to being the sports editor AND got a part-time job covering local sports for The Northwestern. At first, I earned $10 a story for covering American Legion doubleheader baseball games that lasted all afternoon. I would have done it for free. Later, I got the princely sum of $5.95 an hour and considered myself rich.

My goal was to be a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune.

That never happened, but when I saw MISS MARY REPORTING, a new nonfiction picture book written by Sue Macy and illustrated by C.F. Payne, I was hooked. The book explains how Mary Garber broke ground when she became a sportswriter for the newspaper in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the 1940s.

First, the backstory:

Mary overcame more obstacles than I ever had to. My biggest hurdle was coaches who either didn’t believe I was a sportswriter or who assumed I didn’t understand sports. Mary wanted to write sports from the start, but got assigned to the society beat instead. She only got a chance to pursue her dream when all the male sportswriters left to fight in World War II.

Even then, she was made to sit with the coaches’ and players’ wives, instead of being allowed in the press box. And, when she finally was allowed in, she had to wear the badge all journalist wore that stated: “Press Box: Women and Children Not Admitted.”

Her efforts for personal equality made her a champion of others’ rights. She sought out and covered games at all-black high schools giving those athletes space in the paper they had never had before. And she did so for more than 50 years, eventually earning a spot in the Sportswriters Hall of Fame. A quote from the book explains her impact:

According to Mary, the greatest compliment she ever got came from a young boy. It happened in the 1950s when Mary was covering the Soap Box Derby in Winston-Salem. A friend of hers, who was sitting in the stands, overheard a conversation between two African-American boys about eight and ten years old. The older boy pointed to Mary and asked, “Do you see that lady down there on the field?”  The second boy nodded. “That’s Miss Mary Garber. And she doesn’t care who you are , or where you’re from or what you are. If you do something, she’s going to write about you.”

Now, the nuts and bolts:

So, obviously, this book follows the first rule for writing compelling nonfiction: Find a subject with an amazing story to tell.

And it hits it out of the park — to use a phrase Mary Garber might have loved — on all other counts.

  • It reads like a story. There is no dry, data-driven prose here. The story is all about Mary’s love of sports and how that shaped her life. She’s an awesome character, and by the time readers are done, they will know her and like her whether they care about sports or not.
  • Its details are carefully chosen. When you write about someone’s life from childhood to retirement, there’s a lot that could go in. But there’s also a lot you have to leave out. Unless it supports your main theme and moves your story forward, you shouldn’t include it no matter how interesting is. I can only imagine the research and sifting Sue Macy must have done to find and choose the perfect examples she uses.
  • It makes the reader care. Mary’s rise to being a sportswriter when all the others were men, is an interesting story. But it’s her determination to tell all people’s stories and how she integrated the sports pages that takes this story to the next level. The perfect final note is a quote from current ESPN reporter Ashley McGeachy Fox. She grew up in Winston-Salem and saw Mary covering her tennis tournaments. Mary showed Ashley that women could be sports reporters and set her on her current career path.
  • It has resources. I love author’s notes. And this book has a great one with a picture of Mary with her typewriter, a factual summary of her life and a great quote that sums up Mary’s love of athletics. There’s also a list of resources Sue Macy consulted and a shout-out to the Forsyth County Public Library for the help it gave her.

This book is a winner. I feel quite confident you will like it whether you like sports or not and whether you like nonfiction or not.

And if your goal is to write the perfect nonfiction picture book, you will love it and use it as a model.

Happy reading!

WINNER ALERT:

The winner of a signed copy of A Hungry Lion, or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals is LINDA ANDERSEN! Linda, please contact Tammi at tksauer at aol dot com.

25 Comments:

  1. This is a book I will look for! Sounds like a winner!

  2. This whole post made me smile. Can’t wait to read about Mary!

  3. I’m definitely going to check this one out!
    Thanks for giving us such helpful insights into this nf book.

  4. It is a GREAT book, Pat. Thanks for showcasing it. One of my favorites so far this year, so I had to purchase a copy.

  5. So excited to read this book – requested it yesterday from my library!

  6. These lines brought tears to my eyes: The older boy pointed to Mary and asked, “Do you see that lady down there on the field?” The second boy nodded. “That’s Miss Mary Garber. And she doesn’t care who you are , or where you’re from or what you are. If you do something, she’s going to write about you.”
    Good for Mary Garber!!
    Thanks for making us aware of her.

  7. This book sounds great. It will plant a nice little seed in girls minds that they can
    do what ever they want when they grow up.

  8. Thank you for highlighting this model nonfiction picture book about sportswriter, Mary Garber. I look forward to reading this story because of the way Sue Macy stuck to writing about Mary’s determination and how Mary integrated the sports pages in the ’40s and ’50s. The hardest task for me in writing nonfiction is leaving some facts out of the story. So thank you for these words of wisdom: “Unless it supports your main theme and moves your story forward, you shouldn’t include it no matter how interesting is.”

  9. I’ve heard so much about this book lately! It has been on my library request now for quite some time. Thanks, Pat!!

  10. Just read this book yesterday. It’s wonderful!

  11. This sounds wonderful! Can’t wait to read and see it!

  12. I’ll order it. It sounds great. I’ve been looking for some NF to use as mentor texts. Thanks so much.

  13. Thanks Pat for writing this great review. I can’t wait to read the book. I’m beginning to write a nonfiction book, and reading this book will help me.

  14. Looking forward to this. The story sounds intriguing and the illustrations are making me swoon!

  15. Thanks, Pat, for introducing me to this interesting picture book!

  16. This sounds great, Pat 🙂 I hope I get to read it at some point!

    I’m thinking you relate to (I know I love this movie) the character in “Trouble with the Curve” and probably know about Suzyn Waldman. I am ’cause I was such a Yankees fan. Her story is pretty amazing, too 🙂

  17. Avatar
    Jennifer Rumberger

    Going on the to-read list!

  18. Avatar
    Kathy Mazurowski

    Thank you! I just added it to my list.

  19. Hey, Pat. A friend told me about your review. Thank you so much. I loved writing about Mary, but I also have to give some credit to my wonderful editor, Sylvie Frank. She definitely helped me think through which details were important and which weren’t. I’m glad the result is seamless, but the book really is the result of a fantastic illustrator, a passionate editor, and an equally passionate author. 🙂

  20. The book sounds terrific, Pat. And I loved reading about your early career as a budding sportswriter.

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  22. I read it. It is a great book and great story. I’m inspired to try a non-fic picture book biography. There are so many unsung heroes.

  23. I think that I need to get this one for my personal library.

  24. I really appreciate this post. I have been looking everywhere for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You have made my day! Thx again!

  25. plus offering extras which can announce this kind of the main benefit of the skepticism.

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