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Sakamoto's Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Olympic Gold



by
Julie Abery
illustrated by
Chris Sasaki

Edition
Hardcover edition
Publisher
Corus Entertainment
Imprint
Kids Can Press
ISBN
9781525300318

Awards and Honors
2022 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children - Recommended Book
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The inspirational and little-known story of a dedicated teacher who coached Hawaiian swimmers all the way to the Olympics, beautifully told in simple rhyme.

When the children of workers on a 1930s Maui sugar plantation were chased away from playing in the nearby irrigation ditches, local science teacher Soichi Sakamoto had an idea. He offered to take responsibility for the children—and then he began training them how to swim. Using his science background, Sakamoto devised his own innovative coaching techniques: he developed a strict practice regime for the kids, building their strength and endurance by using the ditch water's natural current. The children worked hard under the dedicated Sakamoto's guidance, and their skills improved. They formed a swim club and began to dominate in swimming events around the world. And then one day, the proud Sakamoto saw an impossible dream come true—Olympic gold!

In a unique approach that makes for a moving read-aloud, Julie Abery uses limited rhyming text to tell the little-known story of Coach Sakamoto and the Three-Year Swim Club. The stunning art of award-winning and highly acclaimed Chris Sasaki perfectly complements the lyrical storytelling. This inspiring picture book offers excellent lessons in perseverance, believing in yourself and not letting others define you, while wonderfully capturing how one person can make a huge difference in the lives of others. In highlighting the team's "bright and loud" presence at events, with their Hawaiian dress and ukulele, it also encourages children to take pride in their heritage and view it as a strength. An author's note with photos and more information tell the fuller story of Soichi Sakamoto and his Three-Year Swim Club.Author’s note, with photograph. Resources. Full-color illustrations rendered digitally in Photoshop.

POTENTIALLY SENSITIVE AREAS
None

Details

Format

Print

Page Count

40

Trim Size

9 1/4" x 10 1/2"

Dewey

797.2

AR

0: points 0

Genre

Nonfic

Scholastic Reading Counts

0

JLG Release

Sep 2021

Book Genres

Sports, Picture Book

Topics

Soichi Sakamoto (1906–1997). Maui, Hawaii. Twentieth-century US history. Swimming. Sports and recreation. Olympics. Swimming coaches. 

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Praise & Reviews

School Library Journal

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.–Erica Ruscio, Ventress Memorial Lib., Marshfield, MA

Praise & Reviews

School Library Journal

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.–Erica Ruscio, Ventress Memorial Lib., Marshfield, MA

Grades 2-6
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