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

Abery, Julie, and Chris Sasaki, illustrator. Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30031-8. unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

In the 1930s, children on Maui played in the irrigation ditches lining the Hawaiian island’s sugar cane plantations. Local science teacher Soichi Sakamoto took an interest in training the kids in proper swimming techniques, reinforcing their “pace, rhythm / strength, speed.” After the sugar company built a community pool, Sakamoto and his swimmers formed the Three-Year Swim Club with hopes of competing at the Olympic Games. World War II forced the cancellation of the 1940 Summer Olympics, but Coach Sakamoto’s athletes continued to train, and one of them won a gold medal (and set records) at the 1948 Olympics in London! Author Julie Abery tells this true story in short passages of rhyming verse that are packed with meaning. For example, on the page representing the start of WWII with smoke over an empty lap pool, she writes, “Dawn raids shatter / peaceful skies. / Athletes answer / country’s cries.” Chris Sasaki’s illustrations depict smiling young swimmers churning through the water, as well as the beautiful colors and natural wonders of Maui.

THOUGHTS: True stories of athletes overcoming long odds are always popular; this one is also a great example of illustrated nonfiction for young readers.

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Starfish

Fipps, Lisa. Starfish. Nancy Paulson Books, 2021. 978-1-9848-1450-0. 256 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

Starfish follows the story of Ellie, who has been bullied her whole life for her weight. In order to deal with these issues, she creates “Fat Girl Rules” to live by; however, the reader can tell that these “rules” aren’t working for her. Ellie’s favorite thing is to swim and she can forget about her weight issues and take up all the space that she wants. This novel is told in verse, which really adds to the overall plot, and I feel makes this a more impactful book versus if it were told in regular novel form.

THOUGHTS: I loved Ellie and her journey throughout this book, and it felt so authentic to me. The only part that frustrated me was her mom; however, I can also imagine there are parents out there who are like that with their children who struggle with weight issues so I kept that in mind while reading.

Realistic Fiction          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Ellie’s nickname Splash has been with her since she was five years old. She did a cannonball into the pool in her whale-print bathing suit, and Splash was born. Now she is in middle school, and her classmates constantly tease her about her weight. Even worse, so does her family: her brother is downright mean, her sister never sticks up for her, and her mother is constantly putting her on crazy diets and weighing her at the start of every week. Her only allies are her father and her new best friend Catalina, whose family only see how wonderful Ellie really is. Ellie doesn’t understand why no one else can see what they see, especially her own family. She tries to take up less space living by the Fat Girl Rules she creates, especially one that states you don’t deserve to be seen or heard or noticed. She lives by these rules everywhere except the pool; the pool is one place where she can be weightless in a world that is obsessed with body image. With help from Catalina, her dad, and her new therapist, Ellie embarks on the difficult journey of learning to love herself despite what others think.

THOUGHTS: This middle grade novel is equal parts heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Written in verse, Lisa Fipps’ beautiful writing will resonate with anyone who has ever had body image issues or struggled to love themselves. Starfish is a must-have for middle grade libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elementary NF – Trudy’s Big Swim; How to be a Scientist; Stormy Seas; Top Dogs

Macy, Sue, and Matt Collins. Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm. Holiday House, 2017. 978-0-8234-3665-1. $16.95. 36 pp. Gr. 2-5.

Gertrude Ederle was not used to failure. Her determination, athleticism, and fearlessness could take her almost anywhere. Soon the challenge of successfully crossing the 21 mile stretch of the English Channel and becoming only the sixth person, and first woman, was her goal.   “England or drown” became her motto. Trudy’s Big Swim takes readers into the water with her on the journey and shows the perseverance she needed to succeed. Sue Macy’s words are just right to drive the action while giving some backstory, and Matt Collins provides a lively realistic backdrop for this fascinating glimpse of pushing the human limits in the 1920’s. A timeline of sports highlights is added to the end pages, as well as an afterword, author notes, and source notes at the end.  THOUGHTS: There are many great water adventure challenges that could be connected to this story, including a recent comparison of Diana Nyad’s swim to Cuba. I think it is a fascinating discussion to see what drives people to try the impossible, and how they respond when they reach their limits. Hopefully, Trudy’s Big Swim will inspire a few readers – girls or swimmers in particular – to find their quest.

797, Sports    Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

Mould, Steve. How to Be a Scientist. DK, 2017. 978-1-46546-121-6. $17.99. 144 pp. Gr. 2-5.

Jump right into this colorful exploration of science with quick activities and experiments both familiar, fun, and fresh! Starting with basic layout info and tips for experimenting, Steve Mould then takes readers through six different strands of science: natural world, human body, chemistry, earth, physics, and space. Each unit has quite a few experiments deftly mixed in with background facts and occasional bios of famous scientists. The layout is the typical DK style that is attractive to young readers, broken into short text segments, and full of photos, fact boxes, and illustrations. One desirable trait in this volume is the accessibility of the activities, often using simple household products and basic three step directions. This pattern allows readers to dive in and explore for themselves, inquiring as they go and connecting to a larger scientific world. From making bug chambers to color exploration to crystals and more, discover the world for yourself!   THOUGHTS: This is an attractive book to replace any old faded editions from long ago. The blend of information makes it accessible to a range of ages, and good for repeated reading. Easy to connect some of these activities to makerspace or inquiry centers as well. Though not in depth, How to Be a Scientist is a great cursory view of science.

500, Science     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

Leatherdale, Mary Beth, and Eleanor Shakespeare. Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees. Annick Press, 2017. 9781554518968. $24.95. 56 pp. Gr. 4-6.

This excellent resource will place readers on the boat with youth who are struggling to survive and to find a new life. Whether escaping Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, or Afghanistan, the journey to freedom is never easy or without cost. The true narratives of individual youth from each of these locations help to give a first person experience for readers. There are direct quotes mixed in with timelines, definitions, additional facts, and current updates. Their worlds are also represented with engaging photos and collages from illustrator Eleanor Shakespeare. The honest explanations about the reasons and consequences for escaping may open new discussions for many readers. These boat rides to hope and promise are full of perseverance, and they remind us of our good fortune and responsibility to educate ourselves about their stories.  THOUGHTS: The author, Mary Beth Leatherdale, does an admirable job of addressing this tricky topic in a way that is relatable and eye-opening. Students will likely have questions no matter what their age, and there are few resources at this reading level besides some online sites. A very worthy purchase.

305, Refugees     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

MacLeod, Elizabeth. Top Dogs: True Stories of Canines That Made History. Annick Press, 2017. 978-1-55451-907-1. 102 p. $18.00. Gr. 3-6.

Sure to please dog lovers, MacLeod’s book showcases several dogs and breeds who have served man in a variety of ways over hundreds of years. Some dogs, like Balto and Togo, are relatively well-known and well-covered within children’s books; others, like the first American guide dog Buddy, will be new for most kids. There’s a little something for every dog lover–canine war heroes, search and rescue dogs, adventure companions, even royal pups. The text is upbeat and interesting and includes lots of photos and illustrations to help readers visualize these exciting dogs in action. The book includes lots of colorful and attractive text features, like sidebars with information on breeds or the history of a working dog job, which can become a little distracting and take a lot of back-and-forth reading. Aside from busy page layouts, it’s a great read. A timeline, places to visit, and further reading sections are included. THOUGHTS: An attractive, enjoyable addition to your dog collection.

636.7, Service Dogs      Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

YA Realistic Fiction – Coming Up for Air; Seven Days of You; After the Fall

Kenneally, Miranda. Coming Up for Air. Sourcebooks Fire, 2017. 978-1492630111. 304 pp. $10.00. Gr. 10 and up.

Miranda Kenneally returns to the world of Tennessee’s Hundred Oaks High School with Coming Up for Air, a mature-YA sports romance centered on swimming. Maggie King has never had time for boys; she’s totally focused on securing a spot on a top-tier college team, and maybe even snagging an Olympic trial cut, too. While on a visit to Berkeley, she realizes that heading off to college with a total lack of romantic experience might be a mistake. Who better to teach her the lessons of “hooking up” than her best friend and fellow swimming star, Levi? Unsurprisingly, things get complicated when their electric chemistry threatens both their friendship and their focus on training and competing. Throw in bad-girl Roxy, Maggie’s rival in the pool who suddenly shows an interest in Levi, and sit back to watch the drama unfold on every page. THOUGHTS: This sweet-and-steamy romance is so much fun you will want to join Maggie, Levi, and the gang at Jiffy Burger for fries on Friday just to see what happens next! Another excellent novel that focuses on swimming and romance between friends is Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner.

Realistic Fiction, Sports Romance      Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

 

High school senior Maggie is always poolside or working out to do better in the pool, trying to earn an Olympic cut. With three friends who understand the lifestyle of a competitive athlete (one a swimmer, one a gymnast turned cheerleader, and one a baseball player), Friday night dinners at Jiffy Burger have been the glue that holds them together. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with this group?   On her college visit to one of the best swimming schools in the country, Maggie is quickly distracted by swimming rival Roxy and the fact that Maggie hasn’t had time for boys and doesn’t know how to be more than just friends. Upon her return home, Maggie makes a plan and enlists the help of her best friend and swimming male counterpart Levi. Levi is an expert in keeping things casual, and he will show Maggie the ropes. She trusts him, they’ve been best friends since middle school, and they understand each other, so what could go wrong? Neither of them predicted what is in store in this hot and heavy romance.  THOUGHTS: This was my first Kenneally book, but I can see why the high school girls devour them. The friendships and banter between characters are compelling. Plus, readers will want to know what the outcome is. With descriptions of casual sex and drinking, it may be for more mature readers.

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Vinesse, Cecilia. Seven Days of You. Little, Brown Books, 2017. 978-0-316-39111-5. 336 p. Gr. 10 and up.

Sophia dreads leaving Tokyo, and she has only one week to come to terms with leaving her home –  the only place that’s ever felt like home, her friends, and her school behind. Just when things can’t seem to be any worse for Sophia, Jamie comes back to Tokyo. Having left on bad terms for boarding school in the states years ago, Sophia wants nothing more than to wish Jamie’s return away. The connection she feels immediately, however, is strong. Within the seven days, only a few of them actually involve Jaime, so the title may seem slightly misleading. Really, Sophia’s seven days are about her sadness over leaving Tokyo.  THOUGHTS: Assuming the descriptions are realistic, this book is a whirlwind, one week trip around Tokyo. The teenagers freely come and go, but maybe that is part of the international school lifestyle. Though there is some language, drinking, and non-explicit descriptions of sex, this book will be a hit where first love (with an international flair) is popular. For fans of Stephanie Perkins, Jennifer E. Smith, and many other YA romance writers!

Realistic Fiction      Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Hart, Kate. After the Fall. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017. 978-0-374-30269-6. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Raychel has a lot going on in her life; she has a promiscuous reputation around school; she and her mom struggle financially, and she is sort of part of her best friend Matt’s family. Unbeknownst to Raychel, though how I’m unsure since it’s obvious to everyone else, Matt is in love with her. The alternating chapters set a nice pace and allow readers to experience the emotions and events from both teen perspectives. The mess of Raychel’s life is built up throughout Part I, however, the backstory is necessary to emphasize the sheer loss experienced during Part II. Readers will appreciate the honest portrayal of small, college town teens and the desire to fit in with friends and family. Feeling left behind with friends off in college, animosity between parent and child, sexual assault, sibling rivalry, poverty, and grief are all topics covered. Ultimately, Raychel learns that secrets don’t help your situation, and facing one’s fears (even if it is a daily struggle) is the way to move forward.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District