The Olympics in Rio are officially underway! I definitely get excited for the games (for instance, check out this Olympics book display idea I created), but I always forget how much I enjoy watching all these random sports and athletes until the Olympics come on once again and I just sit in front of the TV all day. It's seriously cutting into my reading time. Good thing there's lots of good sports books to help satisfy both needs!
To celebrate the Olympics and sports in general, here are some of the best books for kids published in the last year that incorporate these themes.
Written by Gail Herman, illustrated by Stephen Marchesi & Kevin McVeigh
Grosset & Dunlap, 978-0448488349
(March 22, 2016)
From the original games in 775 BC Ancient Greece, to the revival and modern games we know today, the Olympics has brought honor to athletes both then and now. Today, the Summer Olympics attracts one hundred thousand athletes from over two hundred countries, with billions of fans around the world cheering them on.
The "What was..." and "Who was..." books are awesome for kids. With periodic illustrations, fascinating facts and stories, and a wide variety of topics, this series really makes nonfiction more fun. So, yes, I was pretty excited to see a new one just for the Summer Olympics. But hey, if the a general overview doesn't fit the bill, how about an athlete-specific biography such as...
Written by James Buckley Jr., illustrated by Gregory Copeland
Grosset & Dunlap, 978-0448483078
(August 11, 2015)
At the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics, track and field star Jesse Owens ran himself straight into international glory by winning four gold medals. From life in oppressive rural Alabama to the Summer Olympics in Nazi Germany, Owens’s winning streak at the games humiliated Hitler and crushed the myth of racial supremacy once and for all.
Again, an awesome choice—nonfiction made manageable for kids. This not only touches on the culture of the Olympics, but issues of racism and discrimination that were rampant at that time. I highly recommend this series!
by Eric Zweig
National Geographic, 978-1426323331
(March 8, 2016)
From archery to zip lining this book covers EVERYTHING about the world's favorite team and individual sports—history, rules and regs, training, and practice of dozens of athletic pursuits. Includes popular sports such as baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis, and quirkier sports such as fencing, curling, and table tennis.
Short, sweet, and to the point. National Geographic has lots of interesting facts and pictures, without being overwhelming for kids. It also includes some quizzes, puzzles, and other fun stuff. A good general overview for the sports lovers out there.
National Geographic, 978-1426324673
(May 17, 2016)
Everything has its weird side—even sports! There are wacky stats, facts, and stories are paired with plenty of pictures, illustrations, and graphics. This book is chock-full of some of the weirdest facts about all things sports related
The Weird but True series is really fun to browse. The facts are placed randomly (there's no order, so feel free to read however you want) and are sure to entice a range of readers (did you know the Olympic torch has been to space?). While not always specific, there's plenty to get kids brains engaged and doing more research.
Written by David Stabler, illustrated by Doogie Horner
Quirk Books, 978-1594748028
(November 17, 2015)
Forget the gold medals, the championships, and the undefeated seasons, athletes were once just kids, too. Babe Ruth had to go to reform school. Danica Patrick fended off bullies. And Peyton Manning was forced to dance the tango in his school play. When all-star athletes were growing up, they had regular-kid problems just like you.
These anecdotes about a range of athletes are not only perfectly sized for kid readers, but they're hilarious, inspirational, and fun. The illustrations are cute, too. It's a great idea that kids are sure to love.
Written by Karlin Gray, illustrated by Christine Davenier
HMH Books, 978-0544319608
(June 7, 2016)
Nadia Comaneci was a feisty and imperfect little girl who went from climbing trees in the forests of Romania to swinging into history at the 1976 Olympic Games, where she received an unprecedented seven perfect scores in gymnastics.
While this is a picture book, it's still a wonderful read for kids of all ages. The illustrations are, of course, beautiful; their fluidity help capture Nadia's own fluid movement and excellence. But it's also still full of facts and stories from Nadia's life (like the time she tried on roller skates as a kid and rolled right out the store). This biography will be perfect for fans of today's great, Simone Biles.
Written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy
Paula Wiseman Books, 978-1481406390
(March 1, 2016)
It was 1904 and St. Louis was proud to host the World’s Fair and America’s First Olympics, including the marathon. However, forty-two racers registered, thirty-two showed up, and of the three racers vying for the finish line: one drove part way, one was helped by his trainers over the line, and one was a postman who traveled from Cuba and ran in street clothes that he cut off to look like shorts. Who will win?
Megan McCarthy has had some pretty great books in the past (I loved Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum) and this one is another fascinating look at an odd moment in history. Her cartoon-ish illustrations add to the fun, historical feeling. Kids will enjoy this quirky story of perseverance and the importance of sportsmanship.
by Daniel James Brown
Viking Books, 978-0451475923
(September 8, 2015)
Out of the depths of the Great Depression comes the astonishing tale of nine working-class boys from the American West who at the 1936 Olympics showed the world what true grit really meant. After surprisingly defeating the elite East Coast teams, they went on to shock the world by challenging the German boat rowing for Adolf Hitler.
This is, of course, the young reader's adaptation of the popular adult book. Besides making the text/story a bit more accessible, there's some new photographs, too. Overall, it's a really inspirational story that's great for young athletes.
by Chris Grabenstein
Random House, 978-0553510409
(January 5, 2016)
Welcome, boys and girls, readers of all ages, to the first-ever Library Olympics! Kyle and his teammates are back, and the world-famous game maker Luigi Lemoncello is at it again! But something suspicious is going on...books are missing from Mr. Lemoncello’s library. Is someone trying to censor what the kids are reading?! Now it’s not just a game—can Mr. Lemoncello find the real defenders of books and champions of libraries?
Okay, so this doesn't really have much to do with the actual Olympics. And this is, of course, completely fictional. But, with puzzles, clues, and thrilling surprises, this is a fun, action-packed sequel to the ever popular Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.
by Shawn Johnson
Simon & Schuster, 978-1481460217
(June 7, 2016)
Charlie Ryland has a secret. She may seem like your average high school sophomore—but outside of school Charlie spends all her waking hours training to become one of the best gymnasts in the world. And it’s not easy flying under the radar when you’re aiming for Olympic gold…especially when an irresistible guy comes along and threatens to throw your whole world off balance.
Okay, so this is fictional, too. But still! It's inspired by gold medalist Shawn Johnson's own experiences as a fifteen-year-old Olympic gymnast. Again, catering to the growing number of gymnastics fans out there, this book is about chasing big dreams, with a little romance thrown in—perfect fun for young readers.
Have you seen a great sports book published in the last year that you've loved? Share it in the comments below!