Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History


When Tillie Anderson came to America, all she had was a needle. So she got herself a job in a tailor shop and waited for a dream to find her. One day, a man sped by on a bicycle. She was told "bicycles aren't for ladies," but from then on, Tillie dreamed of riding—not graceful figure eights, but speedy, scorching, racy riding! And she knew that couldn't be done in a fancy lady's dress. . . . With arduous training and her (shocking!) new clothes, Tillie became the women's ...

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When Tillie Anderson came to America, all she had was a needle. So she got herself a job in a tailor shop and waited for a dream to find her. One day, a man sped by on a bicycle. She was told "bicycles aren't for ladies," but from then on, Tillie dreamed of riding—not graceful figure eights, but speedy, scorching, racy riding! And she knew that couldn't be done in a fancy lady's dress. . . . With arduous training and her (shocking!) new clothes, Tillie became the women's bicycle-riding champion of the world.
Sue Stauffacher's lively text and Sarah McMenemy's charming illustrations capture the energy of America's bicycle craze and tell the story of one woman who wouldn't let society's expectations stop her from achieving her dream.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Reaching back more than a century, Stauffacher and McMenemy resurrect the story of pioneering woman cyclist Tillie Anderson--and make Lance Armstrong feel like yesterday's news. Racing in a self-created aerodynamic outfit (hence the needle reference in the title), Anderson both scandalized and thrilled 1890s America as she shattered records for speed and endurance, leaving competitors and conventional wisdom in the dust. At first, McMenemy's (The Busiest Street in Town) doll-like characterizations and pert settings seem too dainty to serve the story of an athletic heroine and her frenzied times, but within a few pages Anderson's unstoppable determination and energy read loud and clear--in fact, McMenemy proves that the diminutive can also be indomitable. Stauffacher's (Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson) writing is as sprightly and heartfelt as ever, and to her credit, she connects Tillie's accomplishments to the building women's rights movement. An excellent afterword, tucked on the inside back cover, provides fascinating historical context for Anderson's story. Worthy of taking its place beside You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer! and other top-notch junior histories. Ages 5–8. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
In 1889, at the age of fourteen, Tillie Anderson comes to America from Sweden seeking a better life. Good with a needle, she works in a tailor shop, waiting for a dream. One day she finds it when she sees a bicycle. Although bicycles are not supposed to be for ladies, Tillie saves her money to buy one, dreaming not of slow, graceful riding but of the thrill of racing. While practicing, Tillie also designs and sews an outfit that scandalizes the neighbors but that she is comfortable in while riding. Soon she is winning races and setting records. She becomes famous. Her friend and fellow-cyclist, Phillip Shoberg, becomes her manager and later her husband. She is an inspiration to young girls, but considered "unwomanly." Women's rights organizations cheer her. After becoming "champion of the world," Tillie moves on to motor cars. The gouache, hand-painted paper collage, and black India ink flat illustrations include maps of races, indoor races, newspaper clippings, Tillie's bicycle wedding, her trophy cabinet, etc. with minimal details and a light-hearted approach. The front end pages are framed items from the women's wardrobes of the day. In contrast, the back end pages show the details of her "Record Breakers" and "Cycling Victories." Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Kirkus Reviews

Modern bike-riding kids do not realize that for women at the turn of the 20th century bicycles equaled freedom.For Tillie Anderson, it was the ticket out of her job in a tailor shop and into the world of racing and fame. In Tillie's day, women cycled in long dresses, gracefully navigating figure eights or circles around a ladylike maypole, never being seen with "bicycle face." With her trusty needle and thread, Tillie sewed a close-fitting, scandalous suit for riding, allowing her to enter real bike races.Loose, dainty watercolors employ an old-timey palette and give this historic tale the right touch of humor. Tillie is always surrounded by white, making her easy to find in the race scenes. Each spread is full of movement, with circles and ovals playing their proper role in this tale of athleticism, women's rights and freedom. The endpapers extend the story—the opening shows women's fashions and the closing recounts the highlights of Tillie's life in racing. (author's note) (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

School Library Journal
Gr 1–5—A picture-book biography of the tailor turned bicycling champion. After seeing her first bicycle, Tillie Anderson began saving her money to buy one. However, she wasn't interested in the kind of synchronized riding that was deemed respectable; she wanted to race. She trained by working out with weights and riding for half-hour stints. After realizing that her long skirts were a hindrance, she used her sewing skills to make a pants outfit more suited to riding. Anderson started entering races, both outdoors and in the velodrome, where she dominated the field. She soon became the spokesperson for bicycle advertisements. There was an inevitable backlash from other riders and traditionalists, but she persevered despite being deemed unwomanly and referred to as the "Terrible Swede." While this biography offers broad-stroke information on Anderson and the state of women's issues at the time, the endpapers provide annual statistics from 1896 to 1901 regarding her "Record Breakers" as well as her "Cycling Victories." The whimsical gouache and hand-painted paper collage illustrations add to the turn-of-the-century flavor of the book, while the uniform color palette of each spread adds cohesion to the layout. A great addition to the growing number of biographies of daring women.—Stacy Dillon, LREI, New York City
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375844423
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 1/25/2011
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 581,614
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: 760L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.10 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

SUE STAUFFACHER'S books for young readers include Harry Sue, Donutheart, and Donuthead, as well as her new Animal Rescue Team series. Sue's picture book Nothing but Trouble won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children's Literature. She is a frequent visitor to schools as a speaker and literacy consultant, drawing on two decades of experience as a journalist, educator, and program administrator. To learn more about her, please visit SueStauffacher.com.

SARAH MCMENEMY is the illustrator of The First Rule of Little Brothers by Jill Davis, Everybody Bonjours! by Leslie Kimmelman, and The Busiest Street in Town by Mara Rockliff, all published by Knopf. She is also the author and illustrator of Waggle and Jack's New Boat. Sarah lives with her family in London, England. Visit her online at SarahMcMenemy.com.

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