Yusra Swims

Creative Editions. Feb. 2020. 32p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781568463292.
Gr 1-4–Abery spotlights the life of Syrian swimmer and refugee Yusra Mardini in this understated picture book biography. Trained as a competitive swimmer, 15-year-old Mardini grew up in a suburb of Damascus, Syria. She represented her country in the 2012 FINA World Swimming Championship competition. By the summer of 2015, civil unrest was growing, and Mardini and her sister decided to leave the country. They traveled by plane and bus, and eventually boarded a dinghy bound for the Greek island of Lesbos. The boat’s engine failed, and the dinghy almost sank. Mardini, her sister, and two other passengers jumped in the water and guided the boat to safety. She later settled in Germany and went on to compete as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team during the 2016 Rio Olympics. The narrative is told in spare, rhyming verse. Each verse is accompanied by Deng’s evocative colored pencil illustrations, which provide more detail than the text about the athlete’s life. Running feet and broken glass can be seen in the background of Mardini’s swimming complex; a helicopter hovers in the sky over a leafy, seaside refugee camp. The lack of textual detail encourages the reader to look more closely at the illustrations and form an appreciation of the relationship between art and words in a picture book. Readers eager for additional facts about Mardini’s experience will find a more in-depth profile at the end of the text.
VERDICT A unique approach to biography, enriched by Deng’s contemplative and masterful illustrations. Recommended for purchase in most collections.

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