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Be Sure to Catch "Running Girl"!

Keeping a diary helps an 11-year-old track hopeful overcome fears and make friends in a new book from Harcourt Brace: Running Girl: The Diary of Ebonee Rose.

Running Girl Book Cover Just 20 days to go to the All-City Track Meet and Ebonee Rose is excited and scared. She finally breaks open the cover of the beautiful cloth-covered diary that her father, an investigative reporter for a newspaper, had given her on her last birthday.

"He wanted me to keep my notes and poems about running together in a book. Usually I wrote my track stuff on scraps of paper, which I either lost or stuffed in my sock drawer..."

She'd stuffed her diary in her sock drawer too -- because she didn't need it. "But now I do!" she writes in her first entry on Sunday, June 1.

In Running Girl: The Diary of Ebonee Rose, new from Harcourt Brace and author Sharon Bell Mathis (author of the Newbery-winning The Hundred Penny Box), readers will learn a lot about Ebonee Rose in the 20 days ahead.

Eleven-year-old Ebonee Rose -- or E.R. or "fast running Rosie" or "running girl" -- is a walking encyclopedia of track history. She draws strength and confidence from the stories of women track stars of yesteryear. Louise Stokes and Tidye Pickett qualified for the 1932 Olympics, but coaches pulled them off the team and replaced them with two white runners. In 1948, Mae Faggs became one of the youngest track-and-field athletes to make the U.S. Olympic team. At 5 feet, 2 inches tall, "Little Mae" was also one of the shortest track stars, but that didn't prevent her from winning Olympic gold in 1952 and 1956. Gail Devers overcame Graves' disease to win gold medals in 1992 and 1996. Wilma Rudolph overcame polio....

E.R. must come to terms with Queenie, the newest member of the Gazelles track team. (La gazelle was Wilma Rudolph's nickname.) Queenie is one of Ms. Dotty's foster kids. She's a fast-running, mean-talking show-off. (Or could it be that E.R. is a little jealous of Queenie's natural talent?) E.R.'s mother encourages her to "try and be a friend to Queenie" because Queenie's mother is dead and she has no family.

E.R., who calls her Diary Dee (short for Dee Dee, which is Flo Jo's nickname), even pens one of many poems in her diary to Queenie:

She runs
like me

We are rabbits for each other

23 laps/I want to stop/fall "Keep going," she says. "They think we can't."

Lap 31/we run slow cool down/talk

Queenie, maybe someday we will be friends

The next day, E.R. writes "Queenie and I are getting closer Queenies's mother died and left her, but my mother is alive. If Momma was dead, I'd be so scared."

Strong family relationships, a strong sense of history, and "Dee" help E.R. resolve questions about Queenie. They also help her face a sprained ankle, her lack of confidence in the long jump, and pre-race jitters:

"The flower petals in my stomach have begun to flutter, Dee. To shift and drift. I've tried to make them fall back down, to lie flat, but the petals are swirling faster and faster. Can I do it? Can I win? Can I bring the team the victory we want so badly?"

With Queenie as the lead and E.R. as the anchor, the Gazelles win the All-City relay race. Of course -- little surprise there! But surprises are still in store. The story's (diary's) wonderful ending pulls together many loose ends.


Running Girl: The Diary of Ebonee Rose is a story about track; that might not interest all the students in your class. But it's also a wonderful story of how an out-of-school activity and a common bond can bring people together.

Sprinkled throughout Running Girl are photos of and quotes from track-and-field's biggest names over the years -- the athletes who serve as E.R.'s role models. One quote truly summarizes what I find to be the book's strongest message. The quote comes from Gail Devers:

"Everyone has different skills, interests, bodies, and strengths, but there are plenty of sports to choose from. Experiment be patient and expect a few false starts."


After reading the book to students, encourage them to talk about how important activities outside of school can be. What sorts of things have your students learned from their extra-curricular activities (sports and others) that they might not have learned otherwise?

For those who are interested in track, this would be the perfect opportunity for them to explore some Web sites that provide background on track-and-field and some of its big names. Following are a few sites to get your students started:

  • Sports Hero: Wilma Rudolph Wilma Rudolph was an exceptional American track and Field athlete who overcame debilitating childhood illnesses and went on to become the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics.
  • Jackie Of All Trades A brief bio-story of Jackie-Joyner Kersee from NBC's Olympic vaults.
  • Mae Faggs A brief bio from the USA Track & Field's Hall of Fame: A three-time Olympian, Heriwentha (Mae) Faggs was a gold medalist at the 1952 Olympics when she ran on the 4 x 100-meters relay team that set a world record of 45.9.
  • Gail Devers A profile from NBC: The 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona was filled with competitors who battled against giant odds just for a chance to compete, but most would agree that it would be hard to top the compelling story of Gail Devers who stole the gold medal -- and the world's heart.
  • Florence Griffith Joyner A bio from Indiana University: Florence Griffith Joyner elevated women's track to a new level with her three Gold and one Silver medal-winning performance in the 1988 Summer Olympics. Her still-standing World Record times in the 100- and 200-meter events have rightly earned her the title "World's Fastest Woman".
  • Gwen Torrence Another NBC profile: "The hardest working woman in Track & Field." This is the terminology often used to describe Gwen Torrence, the world's top all-around sprinter.

You can find Running Girl: The Diary of Ebonee Rose by Sharon Bell Mathis at your local bookstore. If a copy is unavailable, ask your bookseller to order it for you. The book is published by Browndeer Press, an imprint of Harcourt Brace & Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, FL 32887-6777.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
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