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Swim Team : A Librarian’s Perspective Review

How adorable is the front cover of Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas? This book is cute, with high-action illustrations of swim team meets. I love the messages of overcoming one’s fears, good sportsmanship, and the legacy of swimming pool segregation. I’m not at all surprised that Swim Team is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor recipient – it’s very well-deserved.

AUTHOR: Johnnie Christmas
ILLUSTRATOR: Johnnie Christmas
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: HarperAlle
PUBLICATION DATE: May 17, 2022
PAGES: 256
GENRE: realistic fiction, sports, graphic novel
SETTING: Palmetto Shores, Florida
GIVE IT TO: ES, MS

AWARDS AND KUDOS

  • Coretta Scott King Illustrator – Honor, 2023
  • National Book Award Nominee for Young People’s Literature, 2022
  • Kirkus Best Book of the Year, 2022
  • four starred professional reviews

SUMMARY OF SWIM TEAM

Bree can’t wait for her first day at her new middle school, Enith Brigitha, home to the Mighty Manatees – until she’s stuck with the only elective that fits her schedule, the dreaded Swim 101. The thought of swimming makes Bree more than a little queasy, yet she’s forced to dive headfirst into one of her greatest fears.

Lucky for her, Etta, an elderly occupant of her apartment building and former swim team captain, is willing to help.

THE SHORT VERSION

So adorable! I love the colorful illustrations and the swimming action illustrations. A great lesson for young readers about the lasting legacy of 20th Century swimming pool segregation.

WHAT I LIKED ABOUT SWIM TEAM

I’m going to start with the dad because I absolutely loved him. He’s a single parent who is shown cooking, playing, and regularly encouraging his daughter. I loved his character and his admission about why he didn’t attend any of his daughter Bree’s swim meets. The illustration of the dad floating in the swimming pool at the end is my favorite!

The illustrations are also beautiful, especially those that show action shots of swimming. They made me want to learn to swim better, too! I’ve added an example of these swimming action pages below. There are many like this!

The girl friendships and the idea that girls and women should elevate one another, rather than tear each other down.

It’s a great example of good sportsmanship and the idea that having fun is an important part of competitive sports. My heart melted when the Manatees invited their rival swim team out to lunch at the end. That’s a beautiful moment. Even after all the bullying that happened, mostly from the “wealthier” prep-school team, the girls are able to extend their friendship to their rivals.

There are also nice contrasts between healthy and unhealthy competition. The Manatees swim coach is a man with dark hair and a mustache. He is proud of his team, whether they win or lose. Miss Etta, who also ends up coaching the team, tells the girls to “Have fun!” at their state swim meet.

Contrasting the lighter coaching style of the Manatees is the Holyoke swim coach, who is an older, sharply-dressed, presumably white woman. She berates her team as a group and individually after every meet, even when the team wins. She is responsible for one team member being kicked off the team and out of the school. Her character directly opposes the Manatees coaching style, making the Manatees’ gentler coaching style even more apparent.

The history. Underlying Bree’s fear of swimming is her belief that Black people cannot swim. Her older neighbor, Etta, explains that this is a holdover from the segregation of swimming pools in recent history. It’s not that Black people cannot swim; it’s that, even in recent history, Black people had limited opportunities to swim at all.

This history comes up only three or four times, so it isn’t the focus of the story. But it’s an important lesson for young readers who may not be familiar with swimming pool segregation in US history. It shows the lasting legacy of discrimination. Though Bree was not denied access to a swimming pool herself, she still has an irrational fear of swimming and believes that swimming isn’t for Black people.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT SWIM TEAM

I loved the whole story. It’s cute and has a some great messages for young readers. I would have loved to see the Holyoke swim coach fired at the end, but alas, it didn’t happen. Too bad.

DIVERSITY

Bree, her father, Miss Etta, and Bree’s teammates are Black with varying skin tones. One minor character cues Asian and another is white.

ARTWORK/ILLUSTRATIONS

This page from Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas shows an example of the swimming action scenes. There are many scenes like this.I already mentioned the swimming action pages and have included an example to the left. There’s good reason Swim Team is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book.

The palatte includes lots of greens, blues, yellows, and browns. Illustrations are all full-color.

Skin tones and shades vary from character to character.

THEMES

  • middle school, swimming, fear, anxiety, swim teams, competition, school rivalry, Florida, moving to a new school, single fathers, racism, segregated swimming pools, legacy of racism

LIBRARIANS WILL WANT TO KNOW

Would adults like this book? I loved it, but it’s definitely a tween book. Adults who enjoy middle grade graphic novels will love it.

Would I buy this for my high school library? No; it’s too young for most high school readers.

Would I buy this for my middle school library? 100% YES.

Would I buy this for my middle school library? 100% YES. No content concerns for elementary.

MATURE CONTENT

Language: none

Sexuality: none

Violence: some minor bullying, but it’s mostly team rivalry trash talk. There is no physical violence.

Drugs/Alcohol: none

Other: history of segregated swimming pools is mentioned a few times; also the legacy of racism is what causes Bree (and her father) to fear swimming.

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