This adorable face looked up at me when I was looking at books in a catalog (okay, I know I’m old, but it was an online catalog, so no gruff okay?). It was of middle-schooler Bree. She was staring up and out with these sweet brown eyes, an impish smile, and a confidence I wanted to meet. So, meet her I did in Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas.
What on the surface is a cute story of middle school woes with a little history included for context, is also a book that has deeper meanings and themes. There is fear: Bree is afraid of water as she cannot swim. Fear of the bullies she faces at school/in the community. There is family and friends: Bree and her father have a strong, special relationship. Bree’s new friends help her when she needs them the most. And history: The idea of black people cannot swim comes out. But tell that to Enith Brigitha, a black Olympic swimmer who has Bree’s school named after her. Or the kids on the rival swim team. Or, eventually, Bree herself. Christmas shows the country’s history (segregated pools, poorly maintained pools in black communities) and that myth of black swimmers. The theme of puzzles comes into play as well. This is how Bree solves many of the issues she faces, by breaking them down into pieces and finding how they all fit. That, and the history and racism is mixed in with the themes of friendship and overcoming fears to make this both a fresh new story and simultaneously relatable story.
Then there are the illustrations. As my book was an advanced reader copy, I was left to imagine and fill in blanks. What was shown, however, seems like it will be fun, bright and “just right” details. The tone is solid, but will be countered by the whimsy of the art.
I could see ages 8 and up enjoying, yet concept and pacing could make it best for ages 10 to 14. But of course, we adults, need to get our hands on a copy, too!