Some picture-book biographies of gay and lesbian people mention their queerness in passing (if at all) and move on. But a new picture-book biography of Megan Rapinoe shows the evolution of her realization that she is gay while she also rises to soccer superstardom.
Megan and her twin sister Rachael grew up playing sports with their brother Brian, we learn in Megan Rapinoe, by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, part of the “Little People, Big Dreams” series from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. When Megan started sixth grade, however, “everything changed” and her friends were “too busy having boyfriends and girlfriends! Megan wasn’t sure she was interested in boys,” we read. Given that the book doesn’t indicate which of her friends were interested in boyfriends versus girlfriends, it may be unclear to young readers how different this really made her—but on the next page, we also read that Megan “felt different from most of the other girls,” preferring short hair and sweatpants to skirts and ponytails. “But she knew there were lots of ways to be a girl. She just wanted to be herself,” we learn—a great message for all.
The book takes us on through her growth as a soccer player. A few points could have used more context or explanation for the target age group (4 to 7 years). What exactly is the Women’s Premier Soccer League that she and her sister played in? What does it mean that Megan “turned pro”? And will readers in the target age range (4 to 7 years) even know what the Olympics or World Cup are? A little adult guidance, however, may help young readers through these issues.
Some other places could also use a little polish. We learn that Megan and Rachael “both received … a college scholarship”—but since there were two of them, this should have been “…college scholarships” (or “both” should have been “each”). And one page says that Megan defended causes like equal pay and equal rights, and that she and Rachael ran a summer camp for kids; it’s unclear if these two activities are related.
By being truly herself on and off the field, little Megan became one of the most beloved soccer players in the world—and the best possible Megan she ever dreamt to be.
Rapinoe’s dedication to her sport comes through clearly, though. Combine that with the empowering treatment of her coming out, and the overall impact more than makes up for any minor stylistic flaws. We read that, “While Megan was at college, she realized she was attracted to women. Before she went to the London Olympics, she told the world that she was gay.” Adults may just want to clarify to young readers that being gay means being attracted to someone of the same sex, not just being attracted to women (otherwise straight men would be “gay”). Vegara deserves full credit, however, for showing Rapinoe’s coming out arc from childhood onward, and for emphasizing to young readers that “Being honest about who she was helped Megan to play her best.” The main premise of the book, that “by being truly herself on and off the field, little Megan became one of the most beloved soccer players in the world—and the best possible Megan she ever dreamt to be,” is a necessary message that resonates loud and clear.
The illustrations by Paulina Morgan are bright, cartoon-y, and cheery. Her round-faced depiction of Rapinoe might not look too much like the real Rapinoe’s angular visage, but the caricature has Rapinoe’s signature hair swoop (first blonde, then pink) and energy. At the end of the book are four photos of the real Rapinoe, along with further details about her life.
This is a positive addition to the small but growing collection of picture book biographies that show LGBTQ people as LGBTQ people. Pair it, perhaps, with Brad Meltzer’s similarly cartoon-y but also meaningful I am Billie Jean King, and inspire the young people in your life.