Thursday, April 14, 2011

R.R.Knudson and Title IX

Still working with our Girls on the Run group. The 5k is on May 22, and I hope to be ready for it. There are so few books about cross country running featuring either boys or girls, so I was glad that Story Snoops reminded me about R. R. Knudson, who passed away in 2008.

Ms. Knudson was a prolific author of sports books for girls at a time when that must have been rather unusual. The only one of her books that I had at my library was Zanballer(1972), which I deaccessioned because it hadn't been read and, well, the title was no longer a good one for middle school. I will also pass on Zanbanger (1977) for the same reason, but recently got a copies of Zanboomer (1978) and Zan Hagen's Marathon from other schools in the district where they had been gathering dust. I very much enjoyed these, and am glad to have copies to share with select readers who also can manage Karen Blumenthal's Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the Law that Changed the Future of Girls in America.

Knudson, R.R. Zanboomer.
Zan is enjoying playing on the school coed baseball team, but is injured when she slides into a base and two other athletes land on top of her and dislocate her shoulder. Her friend Rinehart, who is a bit geeky and has a scientific rather than athletic bend, helps her train for the Virginia Cross-Country Championship. The sports details are great, the running tips very helpful, and the look back at 1978 very entertaining... for me. We'll see how it goes with girls reading it as historical fiction. (Cover of my editions by Richard Cuffari. They don't look like his later work, which always appears to be the kiss of death for a title, although I love his illustrations.)

Knudson, R.R. Zan Hagen's Marathon.
Fresh from her victory at the Virginia Championship, Zan decides that she needs to run in the first-ever women's Olympic marathon. In order to do this, she has to make several qualifying races, and enters a tri-state marathon at which she fails miserably. (She sits down and falls asleep for several hours, so finishes next to last!) Her friend Rinehart is on her case about training, so she is running a hundred miles a week, eating healthily, and working out. She enters a military marathon and gets a time that qualifies her for the Olympic trails in Los Angeles. She needs to come up with the money and get out there, which she does, but when she races she makes a miscalculation and comes in fourth, thereby not making the Olympic team. Luckily for Zan, the third place finisher is injured, and the Olympic team calls Zan and offers her support to get back out to the East Coast, since her parents are oddly absent throughout the book! Once at the Olympic Village, Zan makes friends, picks up come running skills, and competes in her fictional race with real women runners such as Joan Benoit and Grete Waitz. The next to the last chapter progresses mile by mile, with Zan and her new Chinese friend Song Mai holding together. Since few people will be able to read this book, I'll spoil the end and say that Knudson has the two finish the race in first place together after Zan helps Song Mai up from a fall. An unrealistic ending, I know, but I misted up at bit. Sigh.

This book falls a little short on logic at times. Where are Zan's parents? Can she really improve so much so fast? Her principal comes to watch her run? Still, this book is worth reading for girls who aspire to run. It is an important part of the history of running, and I'm glad to have several copies.


  1. I have been trying to find these books for years, but kept getting the title not quite right. Loved Zanballer and Zanboomer as a kid, partly because they took place in Virginia. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  2. So glad that you picked these up and read them! I have such a soft place in my heart for Zanboomer, and R. R. Knudson's books really were cutting edge when she wrote them. Hope you have read The Running Dream which is what made me think of Zanboomer and inspired me to write the blog. Thanks for dusting Zan off! : )