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Review of Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm

Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm
by Sue Macy; illus. by Matt Collins
Primary    Holiday    40 pp.
3/17    978-0-8234-3665-1    $16.95
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-3825-9    $16.95

Bitter cold, fatigue, leg cramps, driftwood obstacles, jellyfish stings, threats of shark attacks — it’s the rare individual who would risk all this for the chance to be the first woman to swim the English Channel, a distance of twenty-one miles as the crow flies but considerably farther for a swimmer up against the push-pull of tides and currents. Macy and Collins (the pair behind Roller Derby Rivals and Basketball Belles) assuredly capture twenty-year-old Gertrude Ederle’s unique fortitude of August 6, 1926, when, after fourteen-plus hours, she achieved her goal. The book begins mid-swim, and Macy’s immediate, involving text takes breaks only to supply essential backstory (Ederle had failed at her first attempt to swim the Channel) and scene-setting details (to encourage Ederle as she swam, her supporters played music on a phonograph aboard a tugboat traveling beside her). Collins’s retro-flavored mixed-media art has a you-are-there, camera-like perspective, zooming in at key points along the way; at times, water droplets smash against a “lens” barely separating Ederle from the reader. Appended resources include an afterword offering perspective on Ederle’s place and time, drawing a through-line from American women’s right to vote, won in 1920, to a greater open-mindedness regarding female participation in aspects of public life — including sports, previously thought to be men’s domain.

From the July/August 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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About Nell Beram

Nell Beram is coauthor of the young adult biography Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies (Amulet/Abrams), which made the 2014 Amelia Bloomer Project list and YALSA’s 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound list.

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