Sue Macy writes big, bold picture book biographies of female athletes. Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm is a gorgeous book that begins with Trudy in the Channel and follows her swim, hour by hour, to a new world record.
I loved the details of her swim–how she swam to the strains of music blasted from a phonograph on the boat that was keeping pace with her; how she managed to eat fried chicken passed to her in a net and drank chicken broth from a baby bottle while she swam. I loved the lively quotes Macy includes, like, “England or drown is my motto.” Macy is great at describing an athletic event so that you as a reader feel like you are there, just as breathless with anticipation as the spectators who were really there.
But in this book I especially loved the art. Matt Collins also illustrated two other Macy books I love, Roller Derby Rivals and Basketball Belles, but in this book, his illustrations make the book. He paints from shifting perspectives. Sometimes we’re looking down at Trudy, as if we were on the board. Sometimes we see her at sea level, as if we were swimming next to her. Sometimes we see her from shore. On one of my favorite spreads we see her from under the water, and we also see the threat of luridly pink jellyfish lurking about her. The swim took fourteen hours, and Collins uses the shift to darkness to increase tension. In one memorable spread, he paints how it must have looked when English drivers trained their cars’ headlights on the water to form a beacon for Trudy, to show her which way to swim in the dark.
I didn’t notice the endpapers on my first read of the book, but was delighted when I went back and looked at them again. The front endpapers show Trudy walking into the water. On the last endpapers, we see a movie-maker in place, ready to film her emerging from the water.
One thing I love about Sue Macy’s books is her back matter. This book includes an Afterword that tells about Trudy’s deafness and about how she overcame a spinal injury later in her life. There’s an “Author’s Note” that discusses why Trudy’s birthdate is often misstated. There’s a short essay on “Sources and Resources” about why one newspaper had much better coverage than any other, as well as lists of Macy’s sources. And there are also source notes, attributing all the quotes in the book. I was fascinated to see that Macy also provided attribution for some of her other assertions (for example, that Trudy’s coach had failed twelve times in his attempt to swim across the Channel); usually source notes in picture books are limited to direct quotations.
A great read about a scrappy, determined swimmer.
Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins. Holiday House: 2017.
I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.