Julie Abery’s rhyming picture book SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory is a testament to perseverance, patience, and why investing in children pays off.

In the 1930s in Maui, science teacher Sochi Sakamoto saw some of his students getting caught swimming in an irrigation ditch owned by the wealthy Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company. Instead of telling them to respect the magnates, Sakamoto stood up for the kids to the company and to the police, offering to be responsible for them while they swam. Using his influence and smarts, Sakamoto convinced the company to build the kids a real pool – and laid the foundation for Bill Smith to take the gold in the 1948 Olympics.


  • Avery’s prose is brilliant – short rhyming lines somehow tell the story in detail, leaving nothing out of this incredibly inspiring story.
  • In general, individual sports don’t get enough love – it is great to see swimming promoted as being just as character-building and strenuous as baseball and such.
    • Bonus points for the story of a multi-racial, Asian-American athlete, a definitely under-told narrative.
  • Backmatter is excellent, sharing the fun fact that Soichi Sakamoto himself wasn’t that great a swimmer!
  • Chris Sasaki’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and really show Sakamoto’s love for “his” kids:

Could these pictures be more stunning? This is better than 90% of the National Gallery.


  • Text has allusions to police brutality against children; confirmed by the backmatter. These were poor kids in Hawaii in the 1930s, running from a police officer’s whip because of playing outside.


This book is amazing for so many reasons, and is a definite “purchase for yourself and as gifts.”

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