Hooray! The Olympics are finally here. To celebrate one of the world’s most outstanding events, we’ve assembled five outstanding picture books for kids:

Read more books for teens in celebration of the 2012 London Olympics.

Bright Path: Young Jim Thorpe

Don Brown

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Born Wa-tho-huck, or Bright Path, Jim Thorpe was later known as the World’s Greatest Athlete. He grew up on the plains of Oklahoma and was sent to Indian schools, where he would learn “to act and dress like white people.” Though he hated most of the schools and often ran away, it was at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School that Thorpe proved the athletic prowess that eventually took him to the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, where he won the pentathlon and the decathlon. With his signature watercolor-and-ink cartoony characters and dramatic storytelling, Brown offers a solid look at a hero in the making. The attractive volume works as far as it goes, ending with Thorpe’s heroism at the Olympics but not broaching—except in an extensive author’s note—the complications of a difficult later life when Thorpe was unfairly stripped of his medals. As with all of Brown’s fine volumes, this will appeal to young readers with a bent toward real-life heroes. (bibliographic note) (Picture book/biography. 5-9)

duke8 Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku

Ellie Crowe, illustrated by Richard Waldrep

“In school Duke struggled with his lessons, but in the ocean he was a star.” Duke Paoa Kahanamoku (b. 1890), father of modern surfing, who dropped out of high school and battled racism, politics and financial difficulties on his course to becoming a gold- and silver-medal–winning Olympic swimmer, knew a thing or two about making adjustments and living with aloha (love, peace and compassion). Waldrep’s stunning Art Deco–style airbrush illustrations complement this rich picture of the life of the man who began his life as a humble beach boy and ended it as the equally humble State of Hawai’i Ambassador of Aloha. A lovely visual rhythm is created as the text background alternates between hues of blue (ocean-, pool- and sky-) and shades of sandy beige, pulled directly from the impressive artwork opposite. This harmony in the art is matched in the text, a warm and admiring narrative of a fine American athlete and role model readers may not know. The author, an award-winning subject specialist on Hawai’i, its customs and culture, includes acknowledgements and citations on the verso. (timeline, map) (Picture book/nonfiction. 7+)

touchthesky Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper

Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Malaspina’s free verse tells the story of how Alice Coachman went from her Georgia hometown to the 1948 London Olympics, becoming the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. “Sit on the porch and / be a lady,” Papa would scold young Alice. But Alice preferred racing down the road, “Bare feet flying, / long legs spinning, / braids flapping / in the wind.” She’d play basketball with the boys at recess, make her own high-jump bar with rags tied to sticks and practice, practice, practice. She dreamed of soaring, of touching the sky, and when Coach Abbott invited her to enroll at Tuskegee to train with the Tigerettes, she saw her dreams come closer. She traveled with the Golden Tigerettes and later set a high-jump record at the Olympic Trials. At the Olympics, the American women had no medals going into the final event, the high jump. It was down to two women, and Alice won, setting a new Olympic record. Velazquez’s oil-on–watercolor-paper illustrations capture the long-legged grace of Coachman and the power of her jumps, most dramatically her Olympic medal–winning jump in a close-up double-page spread against an Impressionistically rendered crowd in the background.(Picture book/biography. 6-9) 

jesse owens Jessie Owens: Fastest Man Alive

Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

This soaring tribute to Owens reserves biographical details for the afterword, focusing instead on his Olympics experience from arrival in Berlin to triumphant ticker-tape parade back in New York. In free verse that occasionally verges on the hyperbolic (“Who knew that you would trample / German might like a clod of dust / in a field of glory?”), Weatherford describes each event, noting Hitler’s hostility but also the support that Owens received, both from the crowds and from fellow athletes like Luz Long, his German competitor in the broad jump. Using pastels on rough paper, Velasquez mixes scenes of the muscular Owens in action with vignettes of other significant moments, aptly capturing the drama and excitement of the occasion. A pulse-pounding, if occasionally over-the-top, alternative to the more conventional likes of David A. Adler’s Picture Book of Jesse Owens (1992) or Patricia and Frederick McKissack’s Jesse Owens, Olympic Star (rev. ed., 2001). Perfunctory reading list appended. (Picture book/biography. 7-9)

16 years Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story

Paula Yoo, illustrated by Dom Lee

Handsomely illustrated and compassionately written without sentimentality, this picture book biography exemplifies what this genre should be: humanizing and meaningful. In 1932, 12-year-old Sammy Lee could only swim in the public pool on Wednesdays, the only day open to people of color, and Sammy was Korean American. Torn between his dream of diving and his father’s urging him to become a doctor, Sammy managed to achieve both, despite barriers and prejudice, and was the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal. Scratchboard-style, sepia-toned paintings in wax-covered acrylics create a textured effect both visually and contextually. The title refers to the 16 years he trained for the 16 seconds it took to perform his winning dive. This hero’s inspirational story demonstrates determination and dedication by a man who never gave up and is still an active athlete today at the age of 84. (author’s note) (Picture book/biography. 6-9)