Books to Celebrate the 2016 Summer Olympics

By Alena Rivers

The 2016 Summer Olympics have just begun in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the 2016 Summer Paralympics will follow. Watching each athlete compete in the Olympics is only part of their story. These athletes also have amazing stories that highlight the challenges they have had to, and continue to, overcome to rise to top in their sport. Their stories are full of determination, commitment and serve as sources of inspiration for aspiring athletes. This week, the Butler Center pays tribute to the work of all athletes by highlighting two 2016 books inspired by Olympic Gold Medalists.

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller, illus. by Frank Morrison (Chronicle, 2016)

Young Alta is known as the quickest kid in her hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee; the same town that is currently awaiting the arrival of their hometown hero, Wilma Rudolph, the first African American to win three gold medals at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy.

Alta is confident in her ability to run faster than any other kid in Clarksville until a new girl, Charmaine, challenges Alta to a race. Charmaine is quick to point out that she has new shoes, just like the ones Wilma Rudolph wears. Alta’s shoes are worn out and dotted with holes but she knows that shoes don’t make the runner, so she accepts Charmaine’s challenge.  The girls’ race is heated and Alta channels the strength of Wilma Rudolph in her legs as she keeps step to the rhythm of the champion’s name. Though they get off to a rough start, ultimately, the girls pull together to support their hero during a parade in Wilma Rudolph’s honor, which turns out to be an experience uniting not only the girls but their segregated town of Clarksville, as well.

Pat Zietlow Miller creates text that is oftentimes rhythmic and sets the pace for the cadenced pattern of racing feet through the story. Frank Morrison, depicts the movement and mannerisms characteristic of young girls at play and competition. The watercolor images are soft and suggest the tone of the 1960’s. The author’s note contains a photo of Wilma Rudolph in the Clarksville, TN parade and a brief overview of her Olympic achievements and their impact on her hometown and the nation.

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray, illus. by Christine Davenier (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

Nadia Comaneci is an historic Olympic Gold Medalist from Romania, scoring the first perfect 10 in Olympic history, seven perfect 10’s in fact, and winning several medals in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Nadia is an active young girl who is constantly in motion, running, jumping and climbing trees. Her parents see fit to direct her energy into gymnastics lessons. Not long after, while doing cartwheels on her school playground, she is spotted by Bela and Marta Karolyi. At age six, Nadia is recruited to train under the Karolyi’s, and through dedication and commitment, by the age of 14 she makes it to the Olympics, coached by the Karolyi’s.

Nadia’s story is told in easy to follow text that highlights moments of trial and error through her progression to the 1976 Olympic Games.  The ink and colored pencil drawings are full of movement, evocative of that of Nadia herself. The Afterword contains a description of events following Nadia Comaneci’s Olympic wins, citations for quoted text, and a bibliography of articles, books, and websites.

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