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Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist

Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist

by Lesa Cline-Ransome, James E. Ransome (Illustrator)

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Marshall Taylor could ride his bike forward, backward, even perched on the handlebars. When his stunts landed him a job at the famous Indiana bike shop Hay and Willits, folks were amazed that a thirteen-year-old black boy in 1891 could be such a crackerjack cyclist.
How little Marshall Taylor — through dedication, undeniable talent, and daring speed —


Marshall Taylor could ride his bike forward, backward, even perched on the handlebars. When his stunts landed him a job at the famous Indiana bike shop Hay and Willits, folks were amazed that a thirteen-year-old black boy in 1891 could be such a crackerjack cyclist.
How little Marshall Taylor — through dedication, undeniable talent, and daring speed — transformed himself into the extraordinary Major Taylor is chronicled in this inspiring biography. Here is the story of a kid who turned pro at the age of eighteen, went on to win the world championship title just three years later, and battled racism and the odds to become a true American hero.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The creators of Satchel Paige turn their attention to African-American cyclist Marshall Taylor, who in 1899 clinched the World Championship title. Cline-Ransome includes details about Taylor's boyhood that will easily snare kids' attention. While a youngster in Indianapolis, he "taught himself quite a collection of tricks" as he delivered newspapers on his bike. His prowess landed him a job in Hay and Willits Bicycle Shop. A full-bleed page divided into four panels shows the boy performing stunts on his bicycle in a military uniform, earning him the nickname of "Major." After winning his first race (a 10-mile road race sponsored by Hay and Willits) at 13, the lad left home to become assistant to professional racer Louis "Birdie" Munger and turned pro himself five years later. Concisely and affectingly, Cline-Ransome describes the racial prejudice that plagued the athlete on and off the race course: "All of the large purses won in races all over the country couldn't buy him a meal in a restaurant or a room in a hotel." Though the narrative concludes on a note of triumph, trumpeting his cycling victory in France over the 1900 world champion, a concluding note outlines Taylor's sad, destitute later years. Period particulars and deft use of light and shadow distinguish Ransome's lifelike oil paintings. Portraits of Taylor are in sharp, striking focus, and effectively convey his athleticism, congeniality and resolve. An appealing, accessible biography. Ages 6-10. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
In the wake of Lance Armstrong's record-breaking 6th win of the Tour de France comes the story of Major Taylor, one of the first American champion cyclists. Major Taylor, an African-American, was thirteen when he won his first race. In an era when blacks were not allowed to race on most tracks, Taylor was already a card-carrying member in the American League of Wheelmen. Despite the typical slights visited upon people of his race, Taylor persisted and worked harder and harder at his sport. In 1900 it all paid off when he clinched the title of World Champion in Paris, France. The Ransome team has produced an important biography of an exceptional man detailed with outstanding paintings by James Ransome. 2004, Atheneum, Ages 7 to 10.
—Joan Kindig, Ph.D.
Library Journal
Gr 2-4-A picture-book biography of Marshall Taylor, an African American who became a great bicycle racer. Taylor grew up in Indianapolis, taught himself stunts on his bicycle, and won the first race he entered, in 1891, at age 13. He went on to achieve international fame in a segregated sport. (In this country, he was allowed to compete only because he'd been admitted to the League of American Wheelmen before they voted to bar blacks from membership.) He found a greater level of acceptance in France, and the account of his victory over the French champion Edmond Jacquelin provides the book with its climax. An afterword is frank about the difficulties the athlete encountered after retiring from racing; he died at the age of 53 and was buried in a pauper's grave near Chicago. Overall, the text is smoothly written and greatly enhanced by Ransome's vivid and accomplished paintings. Not quite as long as Cline-Ransome and Ransome's Satchel Paige (S & S, 2000), this book hits only a few high notes in Taylor's life. Mary Scioscia's Bicycle Rider (Harper & Row, 1983; o.p.), illustrated by Ed Young, is a wonderful book for slightly older readers, but focuses only on Taylor's first victory. Useful for reports as well as enjoyable for leisure reading, this attractive book should find a home in most collections.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Glorious, light-filled oils are not enough to save this lackluster picture book biography of "Major" Marshall Taylor, the first African-American world-champion cyclist. From his beginnings as a hired stunt rider in an Indianapolis bicycle shop in 1891 to his triumphant defeat of the reigning world champion in Paris in 1901, the text emphasizes his determination and class in the face of prejudice and hostility both on and off the track. It's an inspiring story, but it never really takes flight. As a subject, Taylor lacks the mythic flair of Satchel Paige, the subject of the pair's 1999 collaboration, and consequently the narrative lacks snap. Perhaps in an effort to compensate for Taylor's relative stolidity and to reach out to child readers, Cline-Ransome peppers her text with invented dialogue, an unfortunate choice in today's world of children's nonfiction. Ransome's full-bleed illustrations emphasize mood and form, featuring a muscular, solemn, and almost driven Taylor. An author's note summarizes Taylor's life after 1901, discusses the racial climate of turn-of-the-20th-century cycling, and cites sources. (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.50(w) x 11.50(h) x 0.40(d)
AD1020L (what's this?)
Age Range:
6 - 10 Years

Meet the Author

Lesa Cline-Ransome is the author of several books for children including the award-winning Satchel Paige and Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist, both illustrated by her husband, James E. Ransome. A graduate of the Pratt Institute, she holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from NYU. She lives with her family in upstate New York. Visit her at LesaClineRansome.com.

James E. Ransome’s highly acclaimed illustrations for Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me won the 2014 Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration. His other award-winning titles include Coretta Scott King Honor Book Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell; Deborah Hopkinson’s Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; Let My People Go, winner of the NAACP Image Award; and Satchel Paige, written by his wife, Lesa. Mr. Ransome teaches illustration at Pratt Institute and lives in upstate New York with his family. Visit James at JamesRansome.com.

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