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Olympics booklist

The opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are happening as I type! Here are some of our favorite Olympics-centric titles — covering winter and summer sports; fiction and nonfiction; biographies of Olympic athletes and stories of would-be Olympic animals — all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide.


adler_america's champion swimmerIn America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, author David Adler’s engaging narration smoothly incorporates important episodes in Gertrude Ederle’s life (e.g., the 1924 Olympics and her record-breaking English Channel swim), some background against which to view them, and enough amplification to make them memorable. Terry Widener’s painterly acrylics depict a sturdy heroine alone in her quests yet cheered by thousands in her victories. An afterword adds background. (Harcourt/Gulliver, 2000)

brown_bright pathLegendary athlete Jim Thorpe gets an understated, humane treatment in Bright Path: Young Jim Thorpe by author/illustrator Don Brown, Brown’s characteristically soft palette perfect for both the Oklahoma prairies Thorpe called home and the government Indian schools he attended for most of his youth. A two-page author’s note fills in the gaps and is followed by another equally thorough bibliographic note on sources. (Roaring Brook, 2006)

jamieson_olympig!Backed by hard work and family support, pig Boomer competes in the Animal Olympics. Though he tries his best at running, wrestling, swimming, etc., Boomer finishes last every time. Disappointment fuels a temper tantrum, but some positive motherly words offer a fresh perspective. Victoria Jamieson’s illustrations, packed with hilarious details (including snarky porcine-sports-commentator asides), accompany her uplifting underdog tale Olympig! (Dial, 2012)

kennedy_elympicsNimble pachyderms compete for Olympic gold medals in Elympics, a humorous collection of poetry by X. J. Kennedy. Kennedy has an unerring ear for meter, and his facility with wordplay is evident; for example, a runner sticks out her trunk to win “by a nose,” and a gymnast is described as getting stamina from her “breakfast heaps of hay.” Graham Percy’s bright watercolor and colored pencil illustrations complement the poetry. (Philomel, 1999)

mckissack_jesse owensWith their well-written biography Jesse Owens: Olympic Star [Great African Americans series], Patricia and Fredrick McKissack provides a simple introduction to the legendary African-American track star and Olympic hero. Captioned black-and-white photos illustrate the text, which is both clear and informative. (Enslow 1992; new ed. 2001)

richards_first olympic gamesAfter relating the myth of Pelops’s father, Tantalus, Jean Richard’s The First Olympic Games: A Gruesome Greek Myth with a Happy Ending goes on to describe how Pelops wins Hippodamia’s hand in marriage by beating her father in a chariot race. Pelops then institutes the first Olympic games in honor of his father-in-law, who died in that race. Kat Thacker’s illustrations of large classical figures in stylized landscapes, with borders inspired by Greek pottery, establish a Mediterranean setting. (Lerner/Millbrook, 2000)

yoo_sixteen years in sixteen secondsPaula Yoo introduces Korean-American Olympian Sammy Lee in Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story. Twelve-year-old Sammy practiced diving so diligently that he caught the eye of a diving coach, but Sammy’s father was pressuring him to become a doctor. Eventually Sammy achieved both goals: in 1948, Dr. Sammy Lee won bronze and gold Olympic medals. With their textured effect, the scratchboard illustrations by Dom Lee convey immediacy. (Lee & Low, 2005)




bobrick_passion for victoryAuthor Benson Bobrick covers the evolution of the Olympic Games in A Passion for Victory: The Story of the Olympics in Ancient and Early Modern Times. Bobrick starts from the Games’ roots in ancient Greece through their decline in the Roman period, then discusses their subsequent revival in the modern age up through the immediate post-WWII era. The evolution of the Games and the sports included are explored with occasional emphasis placed on specific athletes. The illustrations and photos help break up a text-heavy presentation. (Knopf, 2012)

feldman_i am a gymnastIn I Am a Gymnast [Young Dreamers series], Jane Feldman uses color photos to tell the story of McKenzie Foster, a seven-year-old gymnast who hopes to eventually enter the Olympics. Narrated from the gymnast’s perspective, the text describes Foster’s family life, practice routines, participation in competitions, and dreams for the future. Together the text and photos capture a young athlete’s dedication and enthusiasm. (Random House, 2000)

lang_queen of the trackFrom the hardships of Alice Coachman’s Georgia childhood through the 1948 London Olympics at which she won gold and became a legend, Heather Lang’s biography Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion stands out for the little-known details it includes (e.g., Coachman’s dance performance aboard the London-bound ship). Floyd Cooper’s grainy, sepia-hued pastels are striking; endnotes with more about Coachman and the historic 1948 Olympics round out the thorough text. (Boyds, 2012)

macy_swifter higher strongerSue Macy’s Swifter, Higher, Stronger: A Photographic History of the Summer Olympics is a loosely organized but informative and accurate history focusing on the development, heroics, and tragedies of this world competition. Topics include famous female Olympians, controversies, and “unlikely heroes.” Well-captioned black-and-white and color photos quality illustrate the book, which contains a timeline highlighting memorable events. (National Geographic, 2004; new ed. 2008)

macy_freeze frameMacy’s Freeze Frame: A Photographic History of the Winter Olympics is an equally compelling companion to Swifter, Higher, Stronger. The accessible text recounts dramatic highs and scandalous lows of the international competition and highlights the major players — both on stage and off. Accompanied by well-placed colorful photos, this well-designed book captures the spirit and substance of the event. (National Geographic, 2005)

malaspina_touch the skyAlice Coachman dreamed of athletic success as a “never-sit-still girl” in Depression-era Georgia. Her high-jumping career took off in high school, and in 1948 she became the first black female to win Olympic gold. In Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper, the drama of Ann Malaspina’s free-verse telling is mirrored by illustrator Eric Velasquez’s emotive oil paintings. Appended archival photographs and an author’s note expand the inspirational story. (Whitman, 2012)

solo_hope solo my storyIn her memoir Hope Solo: My Story (Young Readers’ Edition), U.S. women’s national team goalkeeper Solo firmly states that “some things are more important than soccer”; she leaves everything on the field at the end of a game. Solo will touch her young readers’ hearts as she recounts her rise through amateur athletics, the death of her troubled father, relationships with teammates, and the triumph of winning an Olympic gold medal. (HarperCollins/Collins, 2012)



bachrach_nazi olympicsThe Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936, profusely illustrated with black-and-white photographs, examines the Berlin Olympics from various perspectives. Author Susan D. Backrach explains how the Nazi government used the event for propaganda, how Jewish athletes from that country were excluded, and how American competitors from minority backgrounds dealt with the dilemma of whether to participate. A selection of color plates concludes the volume. (Little, 2000)

rush for the goldIn Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics, John Feinstein’s sixth sports mystery novel, Susan Carol is a world-class swimmer and teen reporter Stevie, her boyfriend. Susan Carol feels pressure to win the gold for lucrative contracts; Stevie wonders how far a corporation would go to ensure its client’s victory. The answer is “too far,” hence the (quickly and neatly solved) mystery. The Olympic action and intrigue will please fans. (Knopf, 2012)

hasday_kristi yamaguchiAsian Americans of Achievement series entries Kristi Yamaguchi (by Judy L. Hasday) and Michelle Kwan (by Rachel A. Koestler-Grack) introduce the Olympic ice skaters. Fans will find an abundance of details about the skaters’ training and interim competitions as they worked toward the Olympics and some information about their post-Olympic careers. Each book includes dynamic action photographs and sidebars of additional information. Yamaguchi also presents an informative history of Japanese Americans. (Chelsea, 2007)

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.



  1. Thanks for this! If this weekend at the bookstore is any indication, someone could make a mint once every four years by publishing a read aloud-friendly picture book that simply explains what the Olympics are.

  2. This is an excellent list; however, it is heavily in favor of Summer Olympics! Publishers have really missed the ball in regard to current and worthwhile books on the WINTER Olympics. Where are they? The Encyclopedia of Winter Olympics is years out of date, as is the Freeze Frame book. There was a smattering of basic nonfiction (32 pages or so) on specific sports, but they didn’t seem worth the purchase. In the meantime, I’m recommending DK’s fabulous Total Sports–they include Olympics sports.

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