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

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Sakamoto's Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory

  1. 4 out of 5

    Reading_ Tam_ Ishly

    Such an impactful true story retold! I love, love, love the illustrations! It's so unique and I love the details in the art. I love how this storybook tells the story of the almost forgotten important landmark in history regarding how a man changed the fate of kids to become Olympians and achieve their goals in the swimming sport. Conditions in which the kids trained weren't the traditional ones where everyone else who would compete in such sports would have but this man made things possible throug Such an impactful true story retold! I love, love, love the illustrations! It's so unique and I love the details in the art. I love how this storybook tells the story of the almost forgotten important landmark in history regarding how a man changed the fate of kids to become Olympians and achieve their goals in the swimming sport. Conditions in which the kids trained weren't the traditional ones where everyone else who would compete in such sports would have but this man made things possible through utter grit and discipline. I appreciate how the story telling in the actual content consists of less words and how the summary of the history is included towards the end of the book alongwith real pictures. Love this book! Thank you, authors and the publisher for the advance reading copy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This is an amazing story behind this picture book, and I was glad when the background was given in the back of the book about how Soichi Sakamoto, who was not as swimmer coached the local Hawaiian children to learn to swim so well that several made it into the olympics and one received a gold medal for his swimming. The pictures are great. The story is very sparsely told in verse, but it still works. Amazing what one can do with a good coach. Amazing that what started as children swimming in the di This is an amazing story behind this picture book, and I was glad when the background was given in the back of the book about how Soichi Sakamoto, who was not as swimmer coached the local Hawaiian children to learn to swim so well that several made it into the olympics and one received a gold medal for his swimming. The pictures are great. The story is very sparsely told in verse, but it still works. Amazing what one can do with a good coach. Amazing that what started as children swimming in the ditches of the sugar plantation went on to a swimming pool and then the Olympics. Thanks to Edelweiss for making this book available for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    Sakamoto's Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory is a children's picture book written by Julie Abery and illustrated by Chris Sasaki. It centers on a science teacher trains kids who are playing in irrigation ditches how to swim, eventually leading them to the Olympics. Soichi Sakamoto was an American swimming coach who pioneered training methods that have now become standard throughout the sport. Many of his students went on to have great success nationally and internationally. Sakamoto's Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory is a children's picture book written by Julie Abery and illustrated by Chris Sasaki. It centers on a science teacher trains kids who are playing in irrigation ditches how to swim, eventually leading them to the Olympics. Soichi Sakamoto was an American swimming coach who pioneered training methods that have now become standard throughout the sport. Many of his students went on to have great success nationally and internationally. He was inducted into the International Swimming, Hawaii Sports and American Swimming Coaches Association Halls of Fame, and is a member of the University of Hawaii Sports Circle of Honor. Abery's text is rather simplistic, straightforward, informative, and lyrical. Told in clipped, rhyming verse, this is a quick, simplified account of a lesser-known inspirational story in sports history. Backmatter includes an author's note, additional facts, and a bibliography. Sasaki illustrations are full of bright colors, befitting the beautiful landscape. The premise of the book is rather straightforward. In the 1930s, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, migrant workers cut sugar cane, leaving their kids to their own devices. In the hot sun, the kids swim and dive in the irrigation ditches that run through the fields, but the police yell at them and chase them out. When science teacher Soichi Sakamoto sees this, he decides to help the kids, and convinces the authorities to let the kids use the ditch, which he trains them to treat like a swimming lane. Sakamoto creates a daily program for them to follow, making his students swim upstream to make them stronger and over time heads to the Olympics. All in all, Sakamoto's Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory is a wonderful book that exudes inspiration, dedication, and perseverance.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jeanie

    Sakamato's belief in the vulnerable children of Maui is inspirational and it is a story of hope. The illustrations tell the story in a vivid way. I appreciated the actual photo at the end of the team and Mr. Sakamoto. A great book to add to any library. A special thank you to Kids Can Press and Netgalley for the ARC and the opportunity to post an honest review. Sakamato's belief in the vulnerable children of Maui is inspirational and it is a story of hope. The illustrations tell the story in a vivid way. I appreciated the actual photo at the end of the team and Mr. Sakamoto. A great book to add to any library. A special thank you to Kids Can Press and Netgalley for the ARC and the opportunity to post an honest review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tonja Drecker

    With few, poetic words and lovely illustrations, this book reveals a little known tale from history in a way that will inspire even younger listeners. While the plantation workers in Hawaii work hard under the sun, their children swim in the irrigation ditches. At least, until the officers come and chase them away. A science teacher, Sakamoto, steps in and makes a deal, where he watches the kids, and they're allowed to swim in the ditches. When the corporation builds a pool, Sakamoto's dreams mou With few, poetic words and lovely illustrations, this book reveals a little known tale from history in a way that will inspire even younger listeners. While the plantation workers in Hawaii work hard under the sun, their children swim in the irrigation ditches. At least, until the officers come and chase them away. A science teacher, Sakamoto, steps in and makes a deal, where he watches the kids, and they're allowed to swim in the ditches. When the corporation builds a pool, Sakamoto's dreams mount with the founding of a club with his swimmers. And from there, they chase an Olympic dream. Often times, picture books based on historic events can be a bit on the heavy side...when it comes to text and information. This book is not. I was very surprised to find that the author manages to build the scenes, create the story, and draw listeners in by using a poetic and very short text. Instead, the illustrations flow right along with the general story to allow the culture, situations, and emotions to come across. And it's just what this age group needs and will understand. Then, for those who do want to dive deeper into the historical events, there's a longer summary at the end. In other words, it's a wonderful dive into history, offers insight into another culture, inspires listeners to reach for their own dreams, and is enjoyable to read/listen to as well. I received an ARC and found this to be such a wonderful read!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Fiona Halliday

    "Sakamoto's Swim Club" is another non-fiction classic from Julie Abery in her signature pared-down lyrical rhyme. It tells of a group of children (the sons and daughters of migrant cane workers) splashing in the muddy, warm ditches of Maui's sugar plantations in the 1930s, who rise to become Olympic swimmers under the tutelage of Soichi Sakamoto, who himself didn't know much about swimming until he decided to coach them. It is quite remarkable for its themes of perseverance and resilience, tempe "Sakamoto's Swim Club" is another non-fiction classic from Julie Abery in her signature pared-down lyrical rhyme. It tells of a group of children (the sons and daughters of migrant cane workers) splashing in the muddy, warm ditches of Maui's sugar plantations in the 1930s, who rise to become Olympic swimmers under the tutelage of Soichi Sakamoto, who himself didn't know much about swimming until he decided to coach them. It is quite remarkable for its themes of perseverance and resilience, tempered by loving guidance, and Abery tells the story with her usual impressive economy of phrase. Given that we all seem to splash around in our metaphorical muddy pools, dreaming of Olympic swim lanes and golds, "Sakamoto's Swim Club" is a story for the dreamer in us all, perfect for classrooms and libraries alike. The backmatter provides a more detailed version of the story. Chris Sasaki's kalediscopic illustrations, a charming and heady mix of photojournalism meets Pixar, add sweeping energy and charm to the story, spanning as it does, a war and decades. The bright swathes of radiant green and turquoise soak the page with sunshine and love, and add a note of humour. The squirming, dashing children are, in one spot, only present by a heap of clothes presided over by a chicken. It was an absolute delight to read, and as a read aloud would be just perfect.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    I love little-known true stories. In Sakamoto's Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory, a science teacher in Hawaii saw a problem (kids getting in trouble playing in irrigation ditches) and solved it by creating a swim team that, by 1944, competed at the Olympics. Sakamoto himself could not swim(!), yet that didn't stop him from learning the strokes and training techniques to become an excellent instructor. If all that wasn't enough, the illustrations were evocative of the isla I love little-known true stories. In Sakamoto's Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory, a science teacher in Hawaii saw a problem (kids getting in trouble playing in irrigation ditches) and solved it by creating a swim team that, by 1944, competed at the Olympics. Sakamoto himself could not swim(!), yet that didn't stop him from learning the strokes and training techniques to become an excellent instructor. If all that wasn't enough, the illustrations were evocative of the island setting and the narrative rhyming and spare to hold younger readers' attention. Highly rec'd!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Julie Rowan-Zoch

    Beautifully written and sparse, the story of Coach Sakamoto’s dream conveys readers through striking compositions with readiness and grace, just as his Hawaiian team swims to Olympic victory. A many-layered telling of perseverance and dedication that leaves space for discussion and a new source for cultural pride. Sure to spark much interest in this forgotten true story in children as well as adults.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Sanders

    A true and wonderful story told in rhyme. The rhyme was a nice touch and well done. While the coach was wiping a tear at the end--so was I. There is a section at the end that tells the story of Coach Sakamoto and his swim club making it to the Olympics in more detail. There is a list of resources at the end so readers can check out the resources the author used. I believe a lot of these will get a look.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Stef Wade

    If you're looking for a perfect picture book in time for the Olympics, look no further! Sakamoto's Swim Club non-fiction poetry perfection! Paired with Sasaki's dynamic illustrations, Abery masterfully tells the story of this unlikely swim team training in sugar plantain ditches to later become Olympic champions. In short, concise verse, every detail of this story urges you to turn the page. If you love a good Olympic underdog story like I do, this one's for you. If you're looking for a perfect picture book in time for the Olympics, look no further! Sakamoto's Swim Club non-fiction poetry perfection! Paired with Sasaki's dynamic illustrations, Abery masterfully tells the story of this unlikely swim team training in sugar plantain ditches to later become Olympic champions. In short, concise verse, every detail of this story urges you to turn the page. If you love a good Olympic underdog story like I do, this one's for you.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emilee (emileereadsbooks)

    Thank you to Netgalley and Kids Can Press for a free digital copy for my review. This is the movie Cool Runnings but about a Hawaiian swim team and in a picture book! With abstract illustrations and a rhyming cadence this book tells the story of a swim club whose knowledge was almost lost to history. This book is fantastic but I want an adult historical fiction novel STAT on this topic as well.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Molly Cluff (Library!)

    Loved this real-life story of how kids playing in the irrigation ditches of Hawaii's sugar cane field united to form a Gold-medal winning olympic team! The amount of text is great for children--very non-intimidating while still getting the story across (aided by the great illustrations). Loved this real-life story of how kids playing in the irrigation ditches of Hawaii's sugar cane field united to form a Gold-medal winning olympic team! The amount of text is great for children--very non-intimidating while still getting the story across (aided by the great illustrations).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laura Blankenship

    I had higher expectations for this book. The story sounded so interesting, but I found the execution to be lacking. I think the poetic style really held back the story-telling. I wanted more details, but the author limited themselves by only using verse to explain what happened. I just wanted more.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Karla Valenti

    This is such an inspiring story of perseverance! The artwork is vibrant and engaging, a perfect companion to the precise rhymes Julie uses to tell the story of Sakamoto and his team of swimmers. Readers may not have heard of this team and their journey to the Olympics, but they will see themselves in the characters of this story and recognize the challenges (and rewards) of pursuing a dream to the end.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Anne

    This is a true and inspirational story about one man’s Olympic dream. Soichi Sakamoto coached Hawaiian children swimming in irrigation ditches of a sugar plantation. His dedication and hard work led to the impossible and unlikely dream come true of coaching an Olympic Gold Medalist in 1948. His motto was “Olympics First, Olympics Always.” Short text in rhyme and colorful illustrations make this a fun read just in time for the 2021 Olympics!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    Told in poetic way, the story of a science teacher who coached swim, even though he's no expert himself. Swimming club who practiced in a ditch, not even a swimming pool. But these will that brought them to the olympiade even though hindered by world war. Even though recounted in not so many words, his story inspired so many people, and some like me hadn't known him before. What a struggle and prize he got. Told in poetic way, the story of a science teacher who coached swim, even though he's no expert himself. Swimming club who practiced in a ditch, not even a swimming pool. But these will that brought them to the olympiade even though hindered by world war. Even though recounted in not so many words, his story inspired so many people, and some like me hadn't known him before. What a struggle and prize he got.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    The illustrations, even if they were painted, made you feel like you were swimming with the team. This is an underdog book where you want to cheer for all of them. You are hoping that they do make it to the Olympics and all that happens in-between. I think that this would be a good classroom read aloud or one to keep this in their classroom library.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Newman

    I never new about Soichi Sakamoto and his swim club and I'm so happy to find this story. Julie Abery's spare poetry and Chris Sasaki's vibrant illustrations call forth a time and place likely unfamiliar to young readers, but one they will return to again and again for inspiration. I never new about Soichi Sakamoto and his swim club and I'm so happy to find this story. Julie Abery's spare poetry and Chris Sasaki's vibrant illustrations call forth a time and place likely unfamiliar to young readers, but one they will return to again and again for inspiration.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adriana Martinez Figueroa

    Certainly a history I'd never heard of that was given due justice, respect, and diligence. The art is reminiscent of Disney concept art, which, upon delving into the illustrator's work seems on brand. It was a lovely picture book written in short verse that people should definitely check out. Thanks to Edelweiss and Kids Can Press for the e-ARC and opportunity to offer an honest review! Certainly a history I'd never heard of that was given due justice, respect, and diligence. The art is reminiscent of Disney concept art, which, upon delving into the illustrator's work seems on brand. It was a lovely picture book written in short verse that people should definitely check out. Thanks to Edelweiss and Kids Can Press for the e-ARC and opportunity to offer an honest review!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Carl Sanders

    Great combination of non-fiction and rhyming verse.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tina Hoggatt

    Everything about this book is fabulous, beginning with the cover, endpapers that welcome the reader in. The loose, limited palette style used by Chris Sasaki is both masterful and original. Spare, rhyming text tells the story of the science teacher who mentored generations of young Hawaiian swimmers, some of whom made it to the olympics and won medals. Terrific back matter fills in the backstory. Wonderful.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jo Oehrlein

    How a teacher who knew little about swimming managed to turn something the workers' kids wanted to do (play in the canals) into something respected that got them a reputation outside the Island. How a teacher who knew little about swimming managed to turn something the workers' kids wanted to do (play in the canals) into something respected that got them a reputation outside the Island.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Sakamoto's Swim Club is an accessible picture book biography about Soichi Sakamoto and the Three Year Swim Club. The story is told through a fun rhyming pattern and the notes at the end add additional context for curious readers. I wasn't keen on the style of character art (nothing wrong with it, it just wasn't my cup), but the scenery was stunning. Recommended! Sakamoto's Swim Club is an accessible picture book biography about Soichi Sakamoto and the Three Year Swim Club. The story is told through a fun rhyming pattern and the notes at the end add additional context for curious readers. I wasn't keen on the style of character art (nothing wrong with it, it just wasn't my cup), but the scenery was stunning. Recommended!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jessie

    The story in verse of a science teacher coaching migrant workers' children to high levels in swimming in the 1930s-40s. Not a lot of detail here, but the main text gets across most of what is in the endnotes as well. The story in verse of a science teacher coaching migrant workers' children to high levels in swimming in the 1930s-40s. Not a lot of detail here, but the main text gets across most of what is in the endnotes as well.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Theediscerning

    This picture book manages to tell its story twice. The adult or teacher will use the end-matter, which conveys factually the story of how a science teacher devoted himself to using nous and natural streams to train Hawaiian youth into swimmers that could compete at the Olympics. The pictured pages do the same for the younger users of this book – in the shortest of rhyming quatrains. The kids were constantly getting kicked out of the irrigation ditches on Maui's sugar plantations, until Coach tur This picture book manages to tell its story twice. The adult or teacher will use the end-matter, which conveys factually the story of how a science teacher devoted himself to using nous and natural streams to train Hawaiian youth into swimmers that could compete at the Olympics. The pictured pages do the same for the younger users of this book – in the shortest of rhyming quatrains. The kids were constantly getting kicked out of the irrigation ditches on Maui's sugar plantations, until Coach turns up and inspires them – but what happens when there is no Olympic Games for them to compete at? I think the prime achievement of this book is two-fold. It's not the artwork, for I didn't find it particularly attractive – it did show just what it needed to, but in a style I wasn't fully on board with. But the two prongs that make this a success are the work done to provide the rhymes, and the discovery of the story itself, a real-life Hollywood-ending story of sports success. It makes this a compelling read for whoever turns to it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Andersen

    SAKAMOTO'S SWIM CLUB is fantastic! I LOVE this book. The text is sparse and lyrical and leaves room for the reader to fully take in the gorgeous illustrations. This is such an inspirational story. It takes a true artist to convey such heart and emotion with so few words and Julie Abery is a master. The back matter goes into further detail, satisfying readers' curiosity and providing even more entertainment. This book should be on display in every classroom library! SAKAMOTO'S SWIM CLUB is fantastic! I LOVE this book. The text is sparse and lyrical and leaves room for the reader to fully take in the gorgeous illustrations. This is such an inspirational story. It takes a true artist to convey such heart and emotion with so few words and Julie Abery is a master. The back matter goes into further detail, satisfying readers' curiosity and providing even more entertainment. This book should be on display in every classroom library!

  27. 4 out of 5

    RoshReviews

    A long-forgotten story from the WWII era makes it back to prominence with this book. Sakamoto, the Japanese-American science teacher, with absolutely no knowledge of swimming, still ends up coaching the local plantation workers' children and led many of them towards international medals. Such a unbelievable story! I loved how the book told the whole story twice, once in simply rhythmic format and once in prose. It appeals to both children and adults. The illustrations are really good too. Thank yo A long-forgotten story from the WWII era makes it back to prominence with this book. Sakamoto, the Japanese-American science teacher, with absolutely no knowledge of swimming, still ends up coaching the local plantation workers' children and led many of them towards international medals. Such a unbelievable story! I loved how the book told the whole story twice, once in simply rhythmic format and once in prose. It appeals to both children and adults. The illustrations are really good too. Thank you for this children's version of Coach Sakamoto's story. I received an advance review copy of the book for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily. ************************************* Join me on the Facebook group, Readers Forever! , for more reviews, book-related discussions and fun.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    I love stories that unearth hidden gems from history, such as this one! This is an amazing story of Maui science teacher Soichi Sakamoto and a group of sugar plantation workers’ children. Sakamoto takes the children on a journey from swimming in an irrigation ditch to the 1948 Olympics. But equally amazing is how author Julie Abery provides so much detail and evokes so much emotion with her sparse, rhyming text. Chris Sasaki’s colorful illustrations help the reader experience the lush Hawaiian s I love stories that unearth hidden gems from history, such as this one! This is an amazing story of Maui science teacher Soichi Sakamoto and a group of sugar plantation workers’ children. Sakamoto takes the children on a journey from swimming in an irrigation ditch to the 1948 Olympics. But equally amazing is how author Julie Abery provides so much detail and evokes so much emotion with her sparse, rhyming text. Chris Sasaki’s colorful illustrations help the reader experience the lush Hawaiian setting and the excitement of team member Bill Smith’s gold medal performance. The robust backmatter fills in the details and includes a photo of the swim club. Marvelous!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Louise Gooding

    This little known story has been brought to life with Julie’s brilliant choice of verse, and the absolutely fantastic illustrations by Chris Sasaki. Set in the WWll, one science teacher, with little experience or knowledge of swimming himself, sets out to help train the local kids and lead them to success. I’m hopeful Julie considers writing more forgotten stories. Thank you to Netgalley for my eARC.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey Jones

    Sakamoto’s Swim Club is a celebration of Soichi Sakamoto’s hope and vision for the children of poor sugar plantation workers. Training them at first in irrigation ditches and later in swimming pools, he took them all the way to Olympic gold! Sakamoto’s Swim Club continues the rhythmic and pared-back verse Julie Abery debuted in Yusra Swims. This innovative approach to nonfiction slims the story down to its essence. Each beautiful full-page spread features four lines.

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