When Molly Hurford wrote her first Shred Girls book, she drew on the real experiences of female cyclists just like herself.
In an interview with bike-trick pro Trish Bromley, Hurford learned about Bromley’s “ponytail trick,” which suggests that new riders imagine a ponytail lifting up off their neck to get more air time on a jump. That tip made its way into Lindsay’s Joyride, the first of nine Shred Girls books, and now it’s a common topic at Hurford’s book readings.
“A young girl came up and told me, ‘I tried the ponytail trick, and I got higher than my brother’,” Hurford said in an interview with GearJunkie. “These young girls are new to cycling and only doing it because of the book — it’s the coolest feeling in the world.”
Now, Hurford wants to inspire even more young girls to embrace sports through the power of reading. That’s why she started Strong Girl Publishing this year, which will promote the work of female athletes. With a book of poetry from mountain biker Mackenzie Myatt and colorful journals from former XC rider Rachel Pageau, Hurford is just getting started.
“The girls who love to bike are now reading books, and the girls who love to read are now riding bikes,” Hurford said. “We want to reach as many girls as possible.”
Keep Girls in Sport
For Hurford, publishing YA (young adult) books aimed at young girls isn’t only about introducing them to sports — it’s also about keeping them involved. She pointed to a 2008 study that suggested 14-year-old girls drop out of sports twice as fast as boys.
While there are likely many reasons for the disparity, Hurford believes that media representations of young women are a big part of the problem. She vividly remembers taking a “boring” babysitting job as a teenager just because she was reading the iconic Baby-Sitters Club books. That’s a reflection of the powerful influence of popular culture, she said, and the hyper-feminine, romance-centered options that dominate media offerings for young girls.
Instead, Hurford’s Shred Girls series focuses on female friendships.
“More and more, I find myself not wanting to write anything on the romance side,” Hurford said. “I want it to be about the girls, not a happy ending that only happens if the guy likes them … ew.”
But Strong Girl Publishing isn’t just about providing an alternative to traditional gender roles — it’s also about getting kids off screens. While the Shred Girls books are available on e-readers as well as in print, the poetry collection from Mackenzie Myatt, In Defense of Big Dreams, will only be offered as an actual book.
“Kids spend so much time on screens. It’s important to have time away from the computer, iPad, and cellphone,” Hurford said. “I’ve been a bookworm my entire life. The smell, the feel, the pleasure of getting a book in your hands. You can’t get that with Kindle. It’s just not the same.”
Calling All Female Athletes: Write for Shred Girls
If you’re a female athlete with a passion for writing, Hurford wants to hear from you.
She’s currently accepting submissions for Strong Girl Publishing’s first anthology, based around the theme “What I Wish I’d Known.” Entries will be accepted until Nov. 30, and could be almost anything: essay, poetry, graphic novel, or short story. The anthology will include 10 authors, each of whom will receive $200 for their published work.
While cycling might form the bulk of Strong Girl Publishing’s catalog, Hurford wants to offer a bigger library of options. She named her nascent company after a book she published in October: The Strong Girl. It’s about a 19th-century Montreal teen who runs off to the circus to become a powerlifter.
In the long run, Hurford hopes that Strong Girl Publishing will attract a “diverse roster of strong young women authors who are in different sports at different levels.” She knows it’s possible because she’s already seen positive change in women’s sports. When she got started with her biking career, there was no way to watch pro women’s cycling, she recalled. Now Hurford wants to be a part of similar progress for female characters in YA literature.
“When we see female athletes in traditional books, it’s often as a one-dimensional jock character,” she said. “What we’re often missing is a three-dimensional portrayal of girls or women where they can be multiple things. They don’t have to be just the jock or the ‘girly’ one. They can be more than one thing.”