Major Taylor Champion Cyclist

Written by: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrated by: James E. Ransome

For ages: 6-10 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Historic Figure, Historical Events, Sports Figures, Civil Rights, Racism, Trailblazer. 

Summary: Set in Victorian times, this book covers the life of Marshall Taylor, later known as Major Taylor.  When Marshall was 8, he was hired by a rich white family to be a companion for their only son.  Marshall lived a great life, getting education and material goods that were not often received when a person of color so soon after the Civil War.  The year is not exact, but the opening scenes of the book is somewhere around late 1880’s, early 1890’s.  Marshall goes one day, at age 13, to a bike shop to get something fixed so he can finish his paper route.  Upon leaving, he does some tricks and gets noticed by the two shop owners.  They offer him a job cleaning the shop and doing tricks for customers, and even throw in a new bike to sweeten the deal!  Marshall agrees, and wears a military style jacket when doing tricks, earning him the nickname Major Taylor.  The shop owners ask if he wants to be in a bicycle race one day, even though he protests he ends up racing and wins!  Continuing to work at the shop, Marshall befriends the famous cyclists that come in.  Louis “Birdie” Munger is a patron of the shop, and asks Marshall to move to Worcester, Massachusetts with him and train to be a professional cyclist.  Marshall agrees, and began to train.  When he’s 18, he’s officially a professional cyclist.  Marshal begins to tour, and begins to see the racism and segregation that was so common around the United States.  However, Marshall was the only African-American member of the League of American Wheelmen and competed wherever he wanted.  Because of this though, Marshall had troubles with other cyclists who were racist and wanted him out of the competition.  During races, they would gang up on him and try to force him to lose.  Because of this, Marshall became skilled at weaving in and out among racers and it only made him a better rider.  The press called him The Black Whirlwind and he was famous!  He became the World Champion in 1899.  A few years later, Marshall became good friends with Edmond Jacquelin the 1900 World Champion and they decided to race against each other.  Marshall loses the first race, but a rematch is scheduled.  Major Taylor wins!!

This book covers in-depth the life and career of Marshall Taylor, one of the world’s greatest cyclists and a trailblazer of integrating the sport of cycling.  Given opportunities not afforded the majority of the African-American community, he was able to show the world that athletic talent is talent, regardless of race.

Reflection Questions:

  • What is your favorite sport?
  • How do you think Major Taylor felt when he was the subject of attacks just because of his race?
  • How can you stand up for someone that you see being bullied?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Think about your favorite sport.  Learn about when it became integrated, and who the trailblazers were that made desegregation happen.  What were some hardships encountered, and how did this historical figure react to the challenges faced?
  • Try a new sport that has always interested you.  Snowshoeing, kayaking, football, whatever you can think of!  What are some things you need in order to play the sport, and is it accessible for everyone?  If no, brainstorm different ways to make the sport able to be played and enjoyed by everyone!
  • Contact a professional cyclist and see if they will visit your classroom.  Ask questions about what they do to train, what a race is like, and if they have a lot of bikes!  How is being a professional cyclist the same and different as other professional athletes?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

lesa_nolaLesa Cline-Ransome grew up in Malden, MA, a suburb just outside of Boston, the daughter of two nurses and the youngest of three. She considers consider herself very lucky to have grown up with a mother who loved to read. Each week Lesa’s Mom would take Lesa with her to our local library so that she could stock up on books. As Lesa grew older she would venture off into the children’s section and gather up her own collection to check out. Through her mother Lesa realized that reading could become a wonderful escape and writing even more so. When her mother gave Lesa a diary as a gift, she first filled the pages with the “very important” details of her life—adventures with her friends, secret crushes and the many ways in which her family drove her crazy. Then Lesa began creating her own stories! Lesa became interested in children’s books the year she married. Her husband, James was working on illustrating his first book which allowed both of them to look at picture books in a new way. When they’d browse books in bookstores, he studied the illustrations, she read the stories. Lesa eventually completed a graduate degree in elementary education and through coursework became truly immersed in children’s literature.

james-e-ransome-1261135The Children’s Book Council named James E. Ransome as one of seventy-five authors and illustrators everyone should know. Currently a member of the Society of Illustrators, Ransome has received both the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and the IBBY Honor Award for his book, The Creation. He has also received a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for Illustration forUncle Jed’s Barbershop which was selected as an ALA Notable Book and is currently being shown as a feature on Reading Rainbow. How Many Stars in the Sky? and Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt were also Reading Rainbow selections. PBS’s Storytime featured his book, The Old Dog. Ransome has exhibited works in group and solo shows throughout the country and received The Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance award for his book, The Wagon. In 1999 Let My People Go received the NAACP Image Award for Illustration and Satchel Paige was reviewed in Bank Street College of Education’s “The Best Children’s Books of the Year.” In 2001, James received the Rip Van Winkle Award from the School Library Media Specialists of Southeast New York for the body of his work.  How Animals Saved the People received the SEBA (Southeastern Book Association) Best Book of the Year Award in 2002 and the Vermont Center for the Book choseVisiting Day as one of the top ten diversity books of 2002.  In 2004 James was recognized by the local art association when he received the Dutchess County Executive Arts Award for an Individual Artist.  He has completed several commissioned murals for the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Hemphill Branch Library in Greensboro, NC. He created a historical painting commissioned by a jury for the Paterson, NJ Library and a poster for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Brown vs the Board of Education.  His traveling Exhibit, Visual Stories has been touring the United States since 2003.  His work is part of both private and public children’s book art collections.

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