Olympic fever has been building in my little town (Groton, Massachusetts) for a year, since we are sending our high school chamber chorus off to London to perform at the games. If Olympic anticipation is growing in your part of the world, check out these fun- and fact-filled Olympic books for young readers.
A MARVELOUS MELTDOWN
Michael Phelps he's not, but take one look at the cover of Olympig! The Triumphant Story of an Underdog, and you'll fall in love with an Olympic hopeful named Boomer. This plump porcine competitor is dressed in sweats and ready to go, undeterred by having to compete with the likes of an elephant in weightlifting, a gorilla in wrestling and a leap frog in hurdles at the Animal Olympics.
"Oh, I'm sure I will win!" says Boomer. "If you practice and try your best, you can do anything."
Not so fast, Boomer! He loses every competition, managing to get the lowest score in Olympic history for his gymnastics routine. What's more, he throws a tantrum and quits. Frankly, this sort of goodhearted underachievement is refreshing in children's books.
In the end, Boomer rallies, determined to compete again. This book is full of visual delights, thanks to the lively art of author/illustrator Victoria Jamieson, whose bighearted, bigmouthed Boomer practically plops right off each page.
How do you get to be an Olympic athlete? Curious spectators will enjoy Dream Big: Michael Jordan and the Pursuit of Olympic Gold, written by Deloris Jordan, Michael's mother, and illustrated by Barry Root.
The year is 1972, and nine-year-old Michael watches the best basketball game he's ever seen on TV, as the U.S. Olympic team loses to Russia by one point. When Michael tells his mom that he wants to become an Olympic champion, she challenges him to do something about it, not simply dream.
Michael's older brother Larry invites him to a high school scrimmage, and when Michael gets on the floor and scores three points, he feels like a champ.
Dream Big is a straightforward tale about dreaming and doing (parents will be delighted to know that focusing on schoolwork is also a recurring theme). Michael quickly learns that practice and perseverance are what it takes to succeed. An afterword explains that "Michael never gave up after that game. Not for a day. Even when he was cut in the tryouts for high school basketball, he just practiced harder and harder."
Michael's hard work paid off, of course, as he went on to achieve NBA glory and his long-coveted Olympic gold medal.
ANOTHER LONDON OLYMPICS
The London Olympics of 1948 were a very different affair from this summer's gala competition. As Europe recovered from World War II, there was no Olympic Village, and athletes, who were often hungry, had to watch out for bomb debris in the streets.
Despite these hardships, these Olympics were a rallying point for the world, and a dream come true for a young high jumper from Georgia named Alice Coachman, who became the first African American woman to win Olympic gold. Author Heather Lang tells her story beautifully in Queen of the Track.
Lang starts with Coachman's childhood in the rural, racially divided small town of Albany, Georgia, writing: "Alice Coachman was born to run and jump. On morning walks with her great-grandmother Rachel, Alice skipped ahead through the fields. She hopped on rocks. She vaulted over anything that got in her way."
Lang deftly weaves in historical details of segregation, as Coachman is noticed by a track coach and receives a scholarship at Tuskegee Institute. The tension heats up in London at the high jump competition, as Coachman becomes America's last hope for a gold medal in women's track and field, and as the king and queen of England watch her compete, along with thousands of others.
Floyd Cooper's pastel illustrations capture Coachman's beauty, grace, energy and determination. This excellent book also contains interesting historical notes at the end, as well as links to related websites and videos.
GET YOUR BRITISH BEARINGS
Olympic fever often goes hand in hand with a case of London Mania, so brush up on this historic capital with Pop-Up London. Don't be fooled by the listed age range, because adults as well as kids will find this tour fascinating. The River Thames winds along each spread of the book, surrounded by a variety of flaps and paper engineering feats (engineered by Richard Ferguson).
Artist Jennie Maizels has included a multitude of irresistible facts and intrigues, along with many pop-ups, including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, the Tower Bridge and, finally, the Olympic Village and Park. Facts and fun are squeezed in everywhere: This is a book that must be inspected closely to find everything (including a variety of seek and find challenges).
Did you know, for example, that St. Paul's Cathedral has a whistling ghost and a secret room? Or that a pair of Queen Victoria's underpants are on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum? Maizels excels at finding unusual tidbits with guaranteed kid-appeal.
For a historical glance at different Olympic venues, check out Richard Platt's Through Time Olympics. This book begins with an overview of the games, and then travels through time with full-page, colorful spread on a variety of different locations, from Paris in 1900 to this summer's London games.
While this isn't a fully comprehensive history, it presents intriguing bits of the past, along with colorful illustrations and graphics by Manuela Cappon. Combine this book with Pop-Up London, and young fans will be ready to watch the Olympics with a knowledgeable perspective.