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Updated Olympics booklist

It’s officially time for the 23rd Olympic Winter Games, which run from February 8–25th in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Who else is excited?!

In preparation, I brushed up on my knowledge of South Korea. Did you know that while home to more than fifty million people, the country is seventy percent mountains? The biggest mountain range is the T’aebaek Mountains, where the Winter Olympics will occur. This year’s host location, Pyeongchang, is roughly two hours away from the capital, Seoul, and is unusual in that it is a county, not a city. And if you’re wondering how to pronounce different venue names in the coming weeks, check out this helpful pronunciation video guide.

We’ve also updated our Olympics booklist below to include recent Olympics-centric titles — covering winter and summer sports; fiction and nonfiction; biographies of Olympic athletes and stories of would-be Olympian animals — all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide at the time of their publication. Reviews are reprinted from The Horn Book Guide Online. For more recommended sports books, see our “Sports Stars Making a Difference” booklist or click on the tag sports.


Picture books

Boiger, Alexandra  Max and Marla
32 pp.     Putnam     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-399-17504-6

Max and his pet owl “are true Olympians” — they never give up, even after attempts to make a grand sled-run down a very steep hill are thwarted by dull runners, bad weather, and severe colds. Evocative illustrations in a palette of mostly frosty blues with accents of rusty red portray a cozy mountain village and two very determined aspiring Olympians.

Gray, Karlin  Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still
32 pp.     Houghton     2016
Trade ISBN 978-0-544-31960-8

Illustrated by Christine Davenier. Young Nadia Comaneci had endless energy, so her mother signed her up for gymnastics, where she could “jump, swing, and run.” The engaging story of a girl who worked hard through setbacks is complemented by ink and colored-pencil illustrations that match Nadia’s energy, capturing both her falls and her flights to Olympic perfect 10s. An afterword shares how Nadia defected from Romania.

Jamieson, Victoria  Olympig!
32 pp.     Dial     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-8037-3536-1

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. Illustrations packed with hilarious details (including snarky porcine-sports-commentator asides) accompany this underdog tale that’s both realistic and uplifting.

Lang, Heather  Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion
40 pp.     Boyds     2012
Trade ISBN 978-1-59078-850-9

Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. From the hardships of her Georgia childhood through the 1948 London Olympics at which she won gold and became a legend, this biography stands out for the little-known details it includes (e.g., her dance performance aboard the London-bound ship). Cooper’s grainy, sepia-hued pastels are striking; endnotes with more about Coachman and the historic 1948 Olympics round out the thorough text.

Malaspina, Ann  Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper
32 pp. Whitman 2012. ISBN 978-0-8075-8035-6

Illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Alice 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. The drama of Malaspina’s free-verse telling is mirrored by Velasquez’s emotive oil paintings. Appended archival photographs and an author’s note expand the inspirational story.

McCarthy, Meghan  The Wildest Race Ever: The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon
48 pp.     Simon/Wiseman     2016
Trade ISBN 978-1-4814-0639-0
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-0640-6

McCarthy mixes the zany events of the first Olympic marathon on American soil (cheating runners, contaminated water, pilfered peaches, strychnine poisoning) into another appealing informational picture book. The colorful cast of characters is rendered in McCarthy’s recognizable cartoonlike acrylic illustrations, which follow myriad subplots, including one athlete being chased off course “by an angry dog” and another stopping to pig out at an apple orchard.

Yoo, Paula  Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story
32 pp.     Lee     2005
Trade ISBN 1-58430-247-X

Illustrated by Dom Lee. Korean-American Sammy Lee (twelve years old in 1932) practiced diving so diligently that he caught the eye of a diving coach. Meanwhile, Sammy’s father was pressuring him to become a doctor, but eventually Sammy achieved both goals: in 1948, Dr. Sammy Lee won bronze and gold Olympic medals. With their textured effect, the scratchboard illustrations convey immediacy.



Kelly, David A.  The Gold Medal Mess
103 pp.     Random     2016
Library binding ISBN 978-0-553-51320-2
Paperback ISBN 978-0-553-51319-6
Ebook ISBN 978-0-553-51321-9

Illustrated by Scott Brundage. Stepping Stone: MVP series. A diverse group of Franklin Elementary students — Max, Alice, Nico, and twins Luke and Kat — works to uncover who’s trying to sabotage the school’s Olympic-style field day while also participating in the competitions. Action-filled chapters and plentiful black-and-white illustrations support beginning readers. Facts about the Olympics are included at book’s end. A lively start to the mystery/sports mash-up series.



Bobrick, Benson  A Passion for Victory: The Story of the Olympics in Ancient and Early Modern Times
144 pp.     Knopf     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-375-86869-6
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-96869-3

The Olympic Games are discussed, starting from their roots in ancient Greece through their decline in the Roman period, then 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.

Denenberg, Barry  Ali: An American Champion
83 pp.     Simon     2014
Trade ISBN 978-1-4814-0141-6
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-0143-2

The author chronicles the life and career of boxer Muhammad Ali — from his childhood as Cassius Clay to his 1960 Olympic gold medal to his igniting the flame of the 1996 games — through the guise of fictional news articles, letters, and interviews incorporating historical events (civil rights movement, Vietnam War, etc.). Archival photographs, sidebars, and an extensive timeline supplement the informative text.

Freitas, Donna  Gold Medal Summer
232 pp.     Scholastic/Levine     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-545-32788-6

Top gymnast Joey loves her sport and can’t understand why her best friend would quit just to have a social life — or why Joey’s older sister quit after winning Nationals, or why their parents find competitions too stressful to watch. Former competitive gymnast Freitas provides an absorbing look at the challenging but rewarding life of a thirteen-year-old athlete.

Freitas, Donna  Gold Medal Winter
316 pp.     Scholastic/Levine     2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-545-64477-1
Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-64473-0

This companion to Gold Medal Summer is another engrossing sports/romance novel. After unexpectedly medaling at Nationals, figure skater Esperanza Flores is chosen for the Olympic team. The insider’s look at the skating world plus the possibility of romance between Espi and a handsome older skater (or maybe a young Olympic hockey player), add up to a satisfying story for Freitas’s fans.

Holub, Joan and Williams, Suzanne  The Girl Games
306 pp.     Simon/Aladdin     2014
Trade ISBN 978-1-4424-9575-3
Paperback ISBN 978-1-4424-4933-6
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4424-4934-3

Goddess Girls series. This “super special” installment is another treat for fans of the Goddess Girls series. Athena, Persephone, Aphrodite, and Artemis start their own Olympic Girl Games to rival that of the annual boys-only games. Unique for the series, the story is told from alternating points of view of all four goddesses. Readers will enjoy the lighthearted, action-packed plot and the girls’ lively competitive spirit.

Macy, Sue  Swifter, Higher, Stronger: A Photographic History of the Summer Olympics
96 pp.     National Geographic    2004
Trade ISBN 0-7922-6667-6
Library binding ISBN 0-7922-6980-2

This loosely organized but informative and accurate history focuses 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 of uneven quality illustrate the book, which contains a timeline highlighting memorable events. Reading list, websites.

Macy, Sue  Freeze Frame: A Photographic History of the Winter Olympics
96 pp.     National Geographic     2005
Trade ISBN 0-7922-7887-9
Library binding ISBN 0-7922-7888-7

This is an equally compelling companion to Swifter, Higher, Stronger, Macy’s photo-history of the summer games. 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.

Solo, Hope  Hope Solo: My Story (Young Readers’ Edition)
246 pp.     HarperCollins/Collins     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-06-222065-3

Solo firmly states that “some things are more important than soccer”; the U.S. women’s national team goalkeeper 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.



Brown, Daniel James  The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics
226 pp.     Viking     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-451-47592-3

Adapted by Gregory Mone. Overcoming a difficult childhood, Joe Rantz made the freshman crew team at the University of Washington. There, he met equally determined boys and a coach driven to take the gold at the Olympics in Hitler’s Germany. Each team member is profiled; the sport of rowing becomes comprehensible and compelling. This adaptation of the adult bestseller is liberally illustrated with black-and-white photographs.

Carter, Caela  Tumbling
426 pp.     Viking     2016
Trade ISBN 978-0-451-47300-4

Gymnasts Grace, Leigh, Camille, Wilhelmina, and Monica are competing in the Olympic trials; after eight rotations over two days, they’ll learn if they made the U.S. team. With a focus on the athletes as teenagers — with (heightened) insecurities, secrets, crushes, jealousy, friendship issues, and family drama — this is a captivating look into the high-stakes world of elite gymnastics.

Feinstein, John  Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics
314 pp.     Knopf     2012
Trade ISBN 978-0-375-86963-1
LE ISBN 978-0-375-96963-8

In 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.

Hillenbrand, Laura  Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive
292 pp.     Delacorte     2014
Trade ISBN 978-0-385-74251-1
Library binding ISBN 978-0-375-99062-5
Ebook ISBN 978-0-307-97565-2

This adaptation of Hillenbrand’s best-selling adult version puts the Louis Zamperini story in teens’ hands. Zamperini traded delinquency for adulation, becoming a runner on the 1938 Olympic track team; in WWII he survived a plane crash only to be captured as a POW; after battling alcoholism, he became a Christian crusader. The tension never wavers, creating a humdinger of a page-turner.

Sundquist, Josh  We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, A True Story
290 pp.     Little     2015
Trade ISBN 978-0-316-25102-0
Ebook ISBN 978-0-316-25101-3

Paralympian skier, motivational speaker, and video blogger Sundquist’s funny and endearing memoir chronicles his attempt to examine his romantic encounters after he discovers, at age twenty-five, that he’s never actually had a girlfriend. The resulting investigation — presented in reportlike format with footnotes, charts, and graphs — covers ten years of would-be relationships cut short by uncertainty, awkwardness, and misunderstanding.

Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

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