Gertrude Ederle was born to swim. In 1914, at the age of seven, she first went into the water and a decade later she won three Olympic medals. Then she went on to become the first woman, and only the sixth human being, to swim the English Channel. She became an international icon and a living refutation of the hoary notion that women were the weaker sex.
Ederle's story is due for a retelling, and David A. Adler and Terry Widener have provided it in their new picture book, America's Champion Swimmer. This is not the first time Adler and Widener have collaborated to portray great figures from American sports. Their earlier picture books for children are The Babe and I and Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man, which won a whole raft of awards.
Their story is simple and accessible, beginning with young Trudy's childhood discovery that she absolutely loved to swim. We follow her through school, through classes at the New York Women's Swimming Association, and on to her determination to swim the distance between lower Manhattan and Sandy Hook, New Jersey. It was 17 miles; she not only swam it, she beat the men's record. It seemed that there was no stopping her. Inevitably she turned toward the swimmer's grail, the English Channel.
The Channel swim is the high point of this exciting book. The first time Trudy tries, she has to give up only seven miles from her destination. She finds a new trainer and starts over. Through bad weather and choppy water and exhaustion, Trudy fights on toward her goal. Young children will be breathless with suspense through this section and they will be rewarded with Trudy's triumphant success.
Terry Widener's illustrations have the kind of saturated color you find in photographs taken in indirect light. The colors are rich but lack jarring primaries, and the shadows have the same soft cloudy-day look. Boats and bowler hats, even Trudy's swimming cap and powerful limbs, are painted from a carefully chosen spectrum of harmonious earth tones. The pictures unite with the story to create an exciting and moving tale of determination and love of challenge.