Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory

Kids Can. May 2021. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781525300318.
K-Gr 3–This short, brightly illustrated picture book tells the story of Japanese Hawaiian swim coach Soichi Sakamoto and his swim club’s journey to the 1948 London Olympics. After a brief preface, the story opens with children swimming in the irrigation ditches of the sugar plantations in Maui, and Sakamoto offering to coach them, despite being a poor swimmer himself. In a series of iambic quatrains on each page, Abery tells the story sparely with a consistent rhyme that makes it sound and feel like a gentle bedtime story. Sasaki’s upbeat and colorful digital illustrations show the action depicted by the words while adding to the story’s joyful tone with lush depictions of Maui. For most of the book, this structure works, but it stumbles slightly when covering World War II. An illustration of smoke billowing from ships at sea accompanies the text, “Olympic hopes—/ crushed by war.” The following illustration of an empty pool accompanies the lines, “Dawn raids shatter/ peaceful skies./ Athletes answer/ country’s cries.” Though cleverly rendered, this darker side of the story leaves out context that adults will need to provide for younger readers. An author’s note follows the story, featuring a group photo and more detailed information. A brief list of resources concludes the book.
VERDICT Despite its brevity, this book is sure to appeal to young readers and is a great contribution to sports history as well as Hawaiian history. A good addition to most children’s nonfiction collections.

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