Major Taylor: World Cycling Champion

 
4.3 (2)
 
0.0 (0)
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Major Taylor: World Cycling Champion
Co-Authors / Illustrators
Publisher
Age Range
6+
Release Date
September 12, 2023
ISBN
978-1536214987
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A Coretta Scott King Award winner and a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor winner pair up for a rousing picture book biography-in-verse of legendary African American cyclist Marshall “Major” Taylor and the Six-Day Race.

One hundred years ago, one of the most popular spectator sports was bicycle racing, and the man to beat was Marshall “Major” Taylor, who set records in his teens and won his first world championship by age twenty. The first African American world champion in cycling and the second Black athlete to win a world championship in any sport, Major Taylor faced down challenge after challenge, not least the grueling Six-Day Race, a test of speed, strength, and endurance. With energy, heart, and pounding verse, Charles R. Smith Jr. evokes the excitement of the crowd at Madison Square Garden as Major powered through exhaustion, hallucinations, and racist abuse from fellow riders, who tried to crash his bike throughout the competition. Leo Espinosa’s dynamic illustrations capture the action, and as day six draws to a close, and Major’s odds narrow, there is little doubt that his triumphant rise and legacy as an international cycling champion are assured—whatever the outcome of one race—in this high-octane tribute to a trailblazing athlete.

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Engaging Biography
Overall rating
 
4.7
Writing Style
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
5.0
Learning Value
 
4.0
Major Taylor: World Champion was an engaging read about cyclist Marshall Walter Taylor. He arrived on the scene of Madison Square Garden’s six-day race in 1896 as the youngest contestant at eighteen years old and the sole African American among the 28 competitors.
The illustrations and text put us on the edge of our seats as he cycles around the track. We can feel the excitement of that race. He avoids those who want to hurt him because of the color of his skin. He faces hallucinations from exhaustion. Slowly the crowd goes from seeing him for his color to cheering him for his skill.
In an engaging style of writing, we see flashbacks of how Major came to be at the race that day all while he’s cycling 1,700 miles before he comes to a crashing halt thirty minutes before the six-day race ends.
The back matter gives us a more complete rundown of his life and his major successes before the invention of the automobile made the world of cycling fade. Marshall Walter Taylor is an inspiring figure in history. He faced racism but didn’t let it hold him back. Overall, this was an engaging presentation of a biography and a groundbreaking figure in integrated sports.
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Little Known Black Athlete
Overall rating
 
4.0
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
4.0
Learning Value
 
4.0
Starting with a six day cycling reave in Madison Square Gardens, we see the career of athlete Marshall Walter Taylor, known as "Major" because of the garb he often wore while cycling, going back from this pivotal event when he was eighteen years old. In flashbacks, we are told of some of the racism he faced in various races and training opportunities. Since the race lasted six days, Major got very tired and often hallucinated; there was even a pillow strapped to the handlebars so he could rest, which seems like not the greatest idea, especially since helmets for cyclists were unknown then! There were several crashes, but he was able to get up and continue until the last one on day six, after 1,700 miles. He was half an hour from the end of the race, but it was just the start of a fantastic cycling career.

Good Points
This tale is related in Smith's customary well-done verse, and concentrates more on the larger issues of racism through some short mentions of specifics, all while the race is going on. There is a two page spread of background information in prose that I almost wish had been mentioned in the body of the book, but would most certainly have slowed down the fast-paced nature of the race setting. There's also a nice narrative time line as well as a bibliography.

Espinosa's illustrations complement the text, and are filled with lots of motion. There are good details of what clothing people wore during this time period, although Taylor's athletic wear is not all that different in appearance to modern athletic gear. It was probably wool, though, so it's too bad that there are not more descritions of gear and training methods like in McCarthy's Wildest Race Ever, about the 1904 Olympic marathon. I wonder is Taylor also believed that ingesting arsenic would improve endurance?

Picture book biographies about athletes of color are getting somewhat easier to find, and this would be a great title for a budding athlete to read, along with Reid and Freeman's Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis' Fleet of Foot Girl, Tate's Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes, Smith's Victory. Stand!, or Tavares' Growing Up Pedro.
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