Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Kids lit: Olympics-related titles

By Sara Pearce
The Cincinnati Enquirer


America's Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle By David A. Adler, illustrated by Terry Widener (Gulliver Books/Harcourt; $16; ages 6-9). What a terrific tale: New York City butcher's daughter almost drowns at age 7, then goes on to break all kinds of swimming records, become an Olympic medalist and the first woman to swim the English Channel.

               Mr. Widener whisks readers through the first third of the book, which allows him to focus on her amazing swim across the Channel. She did it in 14 hours and 31 minutes, swimming through a fierce storm and floating on her back now and then in order to eat (her first meal was chicken and beef broth).

        Mr. Widener's acrylic paintings are almost too stylized but are effective where it counts most: the Channel crossing. He captures the tension and terror in a two-page painting in which cresting waves engulf the barely visible Gertrude.

Wilma Unlimited

               “How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman,” by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz (Voyager Books/Harcourt; $6; ages 6-9).

        This is the new paperback edition of the moving 1996 book about the unlikely, and amazing, track career of Ms. Rudolph. She contracted polio at age 5 and doctors thought she would never walk again. But at age 12 she packed up her metal leg brace and threw herself into sports. At age 20 she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics.

        Ms. Krull's lively narrative and Mr. Diaz's inventive illustrations add up to a must read for any child, whether or not he or she is interested in sports.

Superguides: Swimming

               By Rick Cross, foreword by Jeff Rouse (DK Publishing; $9.95; ages 6-9). A step-by-step primer covering the basics from gear to strokes to safety. It has all the hallmarks of a DK book: strong graphics, fact-driven sidebars, savvy design and precise, well-labeled photographs.

Destination: Australia

               By Jonathan Grupper (National Geographic Society; $16.95; ages 6-9). Kangaroos, koalas and kookaburras, oh my! Crisp color photographs of Australia's “weird and wonderful animals” take young readers on a whirlwind tour of the continent.

The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936

               By Susan D. Bachrach (Little, Brown and Co.; $14.95; ages 10 and up). A fascinating, readable history of the 1936 Games in Berlin, which Hitler milked for propaganda purposes.

        The book is based on a special exhibit held in 1996 at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is rich in context, explaining the social and political conditions leading to the Games and touching upon what followed afterward.

        Although many Jewish athletes withdrew from Olympic trials, large-scale efforts to organize a boycott fizzled.

        Germany agreed to Olympic Committee restrictions such as treating black athletes well and removing antisemitic signs at venues. As a result, the country emerged from the games victorious — not only in terms of medals (although it won the most) but in terms of image.

        Historic photographs, and reproductions of newspapers, posters and documents round out this powerful, unsentimental account.


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