Besides our deep love of non-prime-time sports (like equestrian eventing and canoe slalom), we love the Olympics for the human interest stories. We love getting to know more about the athletes’ families and hometowns. We love hearing about the obstacles Olympians overcame to get their few moments of international fame.
If you’re planning to watch the Olympics with your kids and want to learn more about what it takes to get to the Olympics, we recommend one of our favorite strategies: read together! These are some of our favorite children’s books about notable American Olympians:
Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story
In 1948, Dr. Sammy Lee became the first Asian American to win Olympic gold. But before taking the diving platform that summer, he endured discrimination, fought in the military, and became a medical doctor. (Notable book for both the National Council for the Social Studies and International Reading Association)
Winners Never Quit
Triple Olympic medal winning Mia Hamm tells a story inspired by her own experience as a very young athlete in this story for the youngest of readers. Little Mia overcomes her frustration by learning an important lesson in sportsmanship.
America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle
My five year old daughter is working on her swimming skills, and was inspired by this wonderful book about Olympic swimmer Gertrude Ederle. Ederle, known as Trudy, became an international superstar in 1926 when she was the first woman to swim across the English Channel. We love this book because it shows the successes and failures and hard work Trudy faced on her quest to swim the Channel. But it also paints a beautiful portrait of the friendship between Trudy and her sister Margaret, who helped design the special goggles Trudy wore on her 35-hour swim.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman
After contracting polio at the age of 4, Wilma Rudolph was told she would never walk again. This book tells the inspiring tale of how Wilma battled disease, her leg brace, and segregation to become the fastest woman in the world at the 1960 Olympics.
Do you have a favorite book about American Olympians? Leave a comment and let us know!
Jenny Wei and Megan Smith are Education Specialists at the National Museum of American History.