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Local children's book author leads 250-mile bike ride to Chicago

Local children’s book author Sue Stauffacher will set out on a five day, 250-mile bicycle trip from Grand Rapids to Chicago on May 16 with stops at eight schools along the route.
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About the Author

Sue Stauffacher is a prolific and passionate writer whose work has covered every genre in children’s literature, from picture books and independent readers, to literary and graphic novels. Her books have earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and the Bulletin. She has been honored and/or her books have been recognized for distinction by the N.A.A.C.P, American Library Association, the Women’s National Book Association, Borders Bookstores, the Library of Michigan and the New York Public Library. Popular as well as critically acclaimed, Sue’s work has been chosen for several state and county reading awards. You can learn more about Sue at

Sue with students from North Park Elementary in Grand Rapids who are preparing to ride with her on the first leg of her journey.

Sue with students from North Park Elementary in Grand Rapids who are preparing to ride with her on the first leg of her journey.

The postcard from Big O's that started it all!

The postcard from Big O's that started it all!

Tillie Anderson aka Tillie the Terrible Swede

Tillie Anderson aka Tillie the Terrible Swede

With internet, television, smart phones and the numerous other electronic distractions, today’s youth are becoming more and more apathetic to the idea of enacting big ideas. Local children’s book author Sue Stauffacher set out on a five day, 250-mile bicycle trip from Grand Rapids to Chicago on May 16 with the hope of reigniting the desire for adventure in the hundreds of students she will visit along her route. 

Stauffacher’s newly released picture book, “Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History,” all started with a postcard and a curiosity.

“I bet thousands of people went into the bathroom of Big O’s on 4th Avenue before it burned down,” said Stauffacher. "But how many came out with an idea for a picture book? When I went into the bathroom at Big O’s restaurant, I saw a framed postcard on the wall. It said: ‘In 1897, one of Sweet’s most famous guests was Tillie the Terrible Swede, fastest bicyclist of her sex.’ Wow, I thought, who would have a name like Tillie the Terrible Swede?”

Stauffacher left Big O’s with an urge to learn more. She researched Tillie and gained a new knowledge and respect for the hidden historic icon. 

Tillie Anderson was born in Skåne, Sweden in 1875. She moved to America in 1889 for the same reason a lot of other young girls and their families did—in search of a better life. Within a year of arriving in the states, Tillie was bitten with ‘bicycle fever.’

Bicycle racing quickly became the biggest spectator sport of the 1890s, with events drawing as many as twelve thousand spectators. Tillie was soon a sensation, competing in up to thirty grueling races a year. In 1898, Tillie became a world champion by beating Lisette Martin, Europe’s best female bicyclist, in both a one-hour match and a four-day race.

Now many months later, Stauffacher is boarding her bicycle just like the great Tillie Anderson that inspired so many people in the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

“To make big things happen, you have to have a big curiosity about the world. Pay attention to what catches your attention,” said Stauffacher. “The most important thing to remember is, if you are called to do something wonderful, if it persistently comes back into your mind and you can’t get rid of it, you are probably meant to do it.  So do it!”

And that is exactly the message Stauffacher is hoping to pass along to the students she will meet along her ride. She will be stopping at eight schools throughout Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois that do not get children’s book author visits very often due to financial limitations.

Stauffacher was not a cyclist before she wrote this book, but when she decided to create the Tillie Ride, she knew there was no turning back. After some help from cycling experts and friends, she and her husband Roger Gilles are ready to lead the way to Chicago where the journey will conclude at the Swedish American Museum on May 20. 

“It’s hard to accomplish your dream if you don’t have a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses,” said Stauffacher. “What I know after a year of getting ready to go on this bike ride is that I am stronger than I thought. I also realize that I am no Tillie. I am a story writer and  storyteller, not an astonishing athlete, but I know that I am ready to take on the Tillie Ride!”

Stauffacher and the several other cyclists that will be joining up at various points along the ride will be providing updates daily on Facebook at and at the project’s blog Please feel free to ask questions, give advice, and interact with Stauffacher throughout her journey. You can also email [email protected] for more information or to send some encouraging words.


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