Leveling the playing field in girls’ books

Shelly Boyum-Breen (Courtesy Photo)

I vividly remember the Scholastic book order form and how excited I was to put in an order when I was in grade school. As the only girl in my class who played sports, I, like most of the boys, gravitated toward books about football, hockey and basketball. 

Never among the book choices was there one about girls playing sports – no one who looked like me. But I did play and have continued to play sports throughout my life. 

I was born in 1974, two years after Title IX leveled the playing field for girls and one year after Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the famous “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match. Since that time, girls’ participation in sports has grown to an all-time high, but the books they read and the dolls they play with still represent princesses. 

I was a tomboy; I played sports nonstop. I would watch an NBA game on TV with my brothers and parents and immediately go outside to practice, even when it was dark out and 20 degrees and there was snow on the court in our back yard. 

I would get out the ice chipper and shovel, turn on the floodlight, and clean off my domain. I would practice dribbling, shooting and every game-time scenario I could imagine because I loved to play. If I fell down, I got back up and tried again. 

I had a wild imagination that I would play in the NBA, the NHL and the NFL. 

The beginning of Shelly Bean 

While I often felt alone in my sports pursuits as a girl, I always had a team. I had friends, coaches, family members and other players who watched out for me on the field, on the court and in life. 

In my 30s, while I was substitute teaching fifth grade, I came across a Scholastic book order form and wondered to myself, “What sports books are out there now for girls?” Once again, all of the books featured boys – still no girls. 

That was when the character of Shelly Bean was born. Shelly is based on my childhood. She was born of the need for strong female role models for girls and boys. She was born out of the admiration for the strong young girl I now know I was growing up. 

Relationships matter 

I never imagined I would be an author. As an adult, I’ve done well in my participation in sports, and I have successfully coached players and professionals. And I have taken leaps in starting a successful, small nonprofit, creating a successful fundraising campaign to self-publish and write a children’s series about Shelly Bean. 

What I am most proud of is my relationships, my teammates. With each endeavor I have encountered, it was others who helped create my success. I have fallen down and gotten back up many times in my life, but it was the people in my life who inspired me to do so and supported me in this journey. 

Who is your team? Who have you put in your life who challenges you and makes you better and stronger?

Shelly Boyum-Breen lives in Plymouth. She is the founder of Foundation IX, a nonprofit aimed at increasing the rate of girls’ participation in sports and fitness, which recently merged with the Ann Bancroft Foundation. 

FFI: www.shellybeanthesportsqueen.com

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