Top Ten Books for Young and Young Adult Runners by Kacy Smith
I love reading. I mostly love running. My reading and running lives are not dissimilar; I have reading buddies and running buddies; I have running injuries and reading injuries (papercuts are no joke). I live in Oregon, a state known reading (think Powells and Wordstock) and for running (think Nike and Tracktown). We run at all ages here, and yes, we run in the rain- a lot. If you have a young runner or future runner among your students, here are some amazing books about running. They are arranged from lowest to highest lexile level.
Ready Steady Mo!
Mo Farah and Kes Grey, illustrated by Marta Kissi (2016)
An incredibly fun read aloud for smaller children. Imagine Dr. Seuss giving running advice, accompanied by drawings of all sorts of runners. The Olympian Sir Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah, or Mo, presents running as fun, exciting, and an activity for us all.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman
Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz (2000)
This book is a wonderful read aloud or book for younger elementary kids. Born into poverty, Wilma Rudolph fought both polio and racism to become a world champion and multiple Olympian. A terrific narrative about the obstacles athletes of color faced in the at the beginning of the Civil Rights Era.
Izzy Barr, Running Star
Claudia Mills (2015)
Izzy is a superstar runner and one of the best athletes in her third grade class. But for all the attention at school, there is none at home. Izzy’s father never attends her meets, attending instead her half-brother’s games. How can Izzy get her dad’s attention and win in a city-wide 10k? Izzy, inspired by her report on Wilma Rudolph, is determined to be a champion. This a is a wonderful choice for kids starting chapter books.
Running on Empty
Sonya Spruce Bates (2018)
Leon Kline is a star relay runner, until a freak accident ends his competitive track career and college hopes. Leon must reshape his identity and future, all while battling pain, depression, and high school. This is an ORCA Hi-Lo book, with lots of realistic sports action. A solid choice for your not yet proficient grade level reader.
The Running Dream
Wendelin Van Draanen (2012)
Jessica lives to run and compete, but then loses her leg in a car accident. Like Leon in Running on Empty, she must rebuild her identity. Between hospital visits and adjusting to a prosthesis, she falls behind in her classwork. Enter Rosa, math wiz. Rosa has cerebral palsy, and longs to be seen as more than a person in a wheelchair. The two new friends form and bond and a dream to run together.
Running Full Tilt
Michael Currinder (2017)
Leo narrates the story of him and his brother, Caleb. Leo is neurotypical with a gift for running; Caleb is his older brother and has autism. As Leo becomes more involved in track and cross country, Caleb grows steadily, yet unpredictably, more violent towards Leo. A beautiful story of siblings, coming of age, and interdependence versus codependency. The author, Michael Currinder, ran track and cross country, and infuses this narrative with his knowledge and experience of running.
On the Road to Find Out
Rachel Toor (2016)
Rejected from her dream college, Rachel goes for her first run, and continues to run. Rachel copes with the usual running challenges of pain and chafing, while becoming physically and mentally stronger. There is some humor and romance in her as well. This book has my favorite line about running: “Running is the most natural thing in the world. It’s the act of catching yourself before you fall.”
Phil Knight (available in Young Reader and original versions) (2018)
A memoir that is both forthright and circuitous, about a man and his sneakers. The memoir focuses heavily on the early days of Blue Ribbon Sports (later renamed Nike), a company that had more downs than ups and was constantly about to go under. Phil Knight, former University of Oregon middle-distance runner, used to sell his shoes from the trunk of his car after his day job. This book is about shoes, business, running, and the bonds we make-whether at school, work, or home. This is a perfect choice for the Shoe Dog in your class or future entrepreneur.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Laura Hillenbrand (available in Young Reader and original versions)(2017)
This is the story of a runner more than of runner. Louis Zamperini, a delinquent turned runner turned Olympian turned soldier, survived a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean, only to be taken prisoner of war by the Japanese. He must survive the open ocean, sharks, enemy aircraft, captivity and torture. After making it back to the states, he must survive the transition to a more normal life. This story of endurance is full of adventure and is ideal for your adreleanie seekers and lovers of military history.
What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen
Kate Fagan (2017)
ESPN writer and columnist Kate Fagan guides the reader into the seemingly perfect world of Madison Holleran, a gifted runner at University of Pennsylvania. Madison struggles with perfectionism and depression, and ultimately takes her own life. This was a particularly difficult read. I had a student, who, like Madison, was smart, accomplished, kept a enviable social media profile, loved running, and ultimately took her own life. You may feel uneasy recommending this book, but there is nonfiction narrative along with Madison’s, which focuses on the academic, emotional, and social media pressures that our students face. There are needed information and resources. It is a story that will break your heart, but it is also an important statement about the social-emotional pressures of our students and the pressures we out upon our young athletes.
Kacy Smith is an ardent reader, runner, and mother. After twenty years of teaching middle school, she currently works supporting ELA teachers and students as a TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) in Beaverton, Oregon. Her summer plans include participating in Penny Kittle’s Book Love Summer Reading Club and training for the Oregon Wine Country Half Marathon.
an awesome collection of books. Thanks for putting it together.
Anyone else have a school with a Girls on the Run or Heart and Sole team? These are new-ish running programs for girls 3rd grade and up that teach them the basics of running a 5K as well as positive self-talk and how to support teammates. It’d be neat to give the coaches a list of age-appropriate running stories like this!
Kacy, I love everything about your post. I too am a reader, runner, and rockin’ mom. If you haven’t seen the picture book THE GIRL WHO RAN: BOBBI GIBB, THE FIRST WOMAN TO RUN THE BOSTON MARATHON you need to check it out. As for me, I’m off to see which books on your list are available at our public library. And, I’m suppose to run a quick three miles today too…I shall see if that happens.
Wilma Unlimited was a favorite of mine when I taught fourth grade. It’s well written and inspirational. I’d like every student in elementary school to hear this story. It’s powerful!
Great list! Some new titles to add to my list and some old faves as well. I’d add Jason Reynolds’s Track series, Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard, and Girl Running: Bobbi Gunn and then Boston Marathon.
Such a great collection of amazing reads! Thanks for sharing!💗
Thanks for all these terrific suggestions! I would also highly recommend the superb Track series by Jason Reynolds. The first three books (Ghost, Patina, and Sunny) are available now, and all are accessible, powerful novels that clearly demonstrate the social, emotional, and physical benefits of participation in running – in this case as part of a track team. Each novel is narrated by a different character, so they work in tandem but stand alone beautifully. They’re an ideal fit for middle school but can absolutely work for students in upper elementary and high school as well.