a list of…five faster, higher, stronger books about the Olympic Games!

G is for Gold Medal: An Olympics Alphabet, by Brad Herzog, illustrated by Doug Bowles

Fittingly beginning and ending with the ancient games — A is for Ancient Greece, and Z is for Zeus — this alphabetical survey of all things Olympian packs a fabulous lot of delectable details into just 26 lettered entries.  

In just a couple of short, concise paragraphs for each letter, Herzog treats us to loads of interesting Olympic facts.  There are historical notes about the progress of the games or particular events or memorable victors.  Statistics are sprinkled in — the tiniest country to win medals, the numbers of events, the distances being raced.  Cameos of grand Olympians like Jim Thorpe and Scott Hamilton are beautifully tucked in, as are quirky tales of an ecstatic dad jumping into the swimming pool and fused silver-bronze medals for two fierce friends.  Such a great smattering of information and trivia, smoothly presented.

Bowles’ vibrant pastel illustrations dominate the pages and surge with life.  Brilliant images of straining, leaping, racing athletes on bright green turf,  icy rinks, or fast tracks grab our attention and pull us right into the action.  A closing page lists every Olympic site from 1896 through 2016.  Do you know who will be receiving the torch from London?!  This is a great, beautiful book to share with fact-hungry kids ages 7 and up.

Through Time: Olympics, written by Richard Platt, illustrated by Manuela Cappon

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed a book by this duo on London through time.  Here is another gorgeous, fascinating volume tracing the Olympics from Ancient Greece right up to the 2012 Games in London.

Manuela Cappon’s intriguing historical illustrations flood the pages with scenes beginning with those naked Greeks on their dusty track and continuing on through the magnificent structures built for the games just about to begin,  providing a stunning visual history of architecture, clothing styles, athletic apparel, various stadiums and venues, athletes and events.  There’s just so much to look at!!  Her work is incredibly appealing.

Meanwhile, Richard Platt has masterfully sorted through heaps and gobs of information, boiling it down to just a couple of paragraphs about 19 different Games, which are spread out on a handsome timeline for us on the opening pages.  We stop in at Paris in 1900, where the event is a bit of a mess, Berlin in 1936 where Jesse Owens stars, the first post-war Olympics in London, and the terror-stained Munich Olympics as well as Rome, Tokyo, Mexico City, Moscow, L.A., Seoul, Barcelona, Lillehammer, Atlanta, Sydney, Beijing…with a couple of repeating host cities as well.  Can you guess which ones?  Just the right highlights about Something Interesting are touched on in each 2-page spread, as well as an inset map showing the host city, and a few stats about the number of nations and athletes involved.  This is not a heavy-handed non-fiction tome; it’s a fabulous display which can be read through-and-through, or dabbled in by kids as young as 6 and the adults who are lucky enough to share it with them.  Includes a couple of pages of facts and records for fact-monsters!  I love this team and their work.

How to Train with a T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals, by Michael Phelps with Alan Abrahamson, illustrated by Ward Jenkins

For most of your kids, Michael Phelps has dominated the Summer Olympics since they were born.  And he’s a mere 27 years old.  Certainly his story will again be prolifically splashed across our screens as he races for gold in London.

This clever book satisfies kids’ curiosity about how a guy like that gets in shape for these historic swimming feats.  Hint:  Buckets of hard work.  How much did he have to train?  How far did he have to swim?  How much did he eat, for goodness sake?  And how sleepy did all of this make him?!  With friendly comparisons kids can relate to and mind-boggling numbers that will make their jaws drop, Phelps casually, energetically communicates his training regimen, then throws in one last, very surprising figure.

Colorful, bright digital illustrations by Ward Jenkins accentuate the upbeat tone of this book and provide lots of humorous asides.  Kids  ages 4 and up will sit still for this, though the numbers will mean more to slightly older siblings.  There’s loads of fun background info on this popular swimmer that will help kids pay attention to Phelps’ races, and of course a lesson sandwiched in there about how much hard work is involved in pursuing such a dream.

Gold Medal for Weird, written and illustrated by Kevin Sylvester

How come the Italian basketball team won their game by a score of 2-0 in 1976?  Where did a fan wearing a tutu disrupt the diving competition?  What’s bandy, and is it likely to become an official Olympic event someday?

Kids middle-elementary and up who love quirky facts and who pour over tales-of-the-offbeat will enjoy perusing this small volume of unusual Olympic trivia.  Although most Olympic information fairly glows with an aura of glorious triumph, pomp, and ceremony, this one strikes a much less lofty tone.  Its short entries tell stories about folks mostly no one’s heard of, crazy records, flops, bumbles, and kooky fans.  I wish the chapter on cheats had been less prominent, but there’s plenty of other sections that are merely funny, or wacky, or even which highlight unusual,  heroic moments that I enjoyed reading.

You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Greek Athlete!: Races You’d Rather Not Run, written by Michael Ford, illustrated by David Antram

It’s the 5th century B.C. and we’re peeking in on the life of a young boy who’s destined to compete in the Olympics.  The ancient Olympics.  What does life look like for him?  Does his training resemble Michael Phelps’ that we just read about?  What races can he enter?

This breezy account of the ancient games and some of the facets of life in Ancient Greece provides a lighthearted introduction to this culture and the origins of our Olympics.  There’s a bit of information about education, military service, the religious purposes of the original Olympics, as well as swiftly-paced explanations of the few events originally held and the ins and outs of winning them.  

So, why would you NOT want to run these races?  Between naked, oil-slicked bodies coated with hot sand, metal-studded boxing mitts, and fierce wrestling-style competitions with far different rules than we’ve got in place now, this was not a place for wimps!   Your kids will be surprised to learn the strikingly different nature of the original Olympics and get a little dab of ancient history in the process.

Cartoon-style illustrations lend a humorous, over-the-top feel to this account, rather than a staid, “now we’re learning ancient history” feel.  For a follow-up, you may enjoy the delightful, interactive BBC children’s lessons on Ancient Greece, including a section on the Olympics.  I found the photos of Greek pottery bearing images of athletes quite interesting.

Here are Amazon links for all these winning titles:

G is for Gold Medal: An Olympics Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press Sports & Hobbies)

Through Time: Olympics

How to Train with a T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals

Gold Medal for Weird

You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Greek Athlete: Races You’d Rather Not Run