Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World- Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid (Katie Mazeika)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World- Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid by Katie Mazeika.

Growing up in Australia, Annette loved to sing and dance, but an illness in childhood weakened her legs to the point of requiring apparatus in order to walk. Hoping to help her regain her love of movement, her parents took her swimming, where she was not only able to strengthen her legs, but to develop a new passion for movement through water. Whether competing in races or performing “ornamental swimming,” a style of underwater ballet she would go on to develop over her entire life, Annette broke records, raised eyebrows, fought unfair laws, inspired fashion trends, and changed the world of swimming, especially for women, forever.

A fascinating story of a lesser-known feminist icon. Not only a groundbreaking disabled female athlete and artist, Annette Kellerman also reinvented swimming fashion for women, which was cumbersome and even dangerously restrictive at the time. Her story and the breadth of her achievements are truly interesting to learn, and Mazeika does a wonderful job in getting all the noteworthy elements of Kellerman’s life story to shine equally while leaving a final product balanced, well-paced, and occasionally exhilarating. The art is also well done, managing to convey aquatic grace and endurance, as well as Kellerman’s determination and talent. One greatly-appreciated page is one that includes swimmer in hijab while explaining that women should be able to wear whatever makes them feel comfortable while swimming; it’s a small but important note on inclusively and body autonomy. The length is great for a storytime, and JJ and I both enjoyed it – overall, a wonderful look at a disabled, female pioneer and the impact of her life’s work. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by a representative of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Swim, Jim! (Kaz Windness)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Swim, Jim! by Kaz Windness, a silly story about facing fears, supporting siblings, and swimming.

One night in the Swigwater Swamp, three baby crocodiles were hatched – Sim, Kim, and Jim. While older sisters Sim and Kim are natural swimmers, Jim can barely bring himself to dip in a toe. It’s not that he’s afraid of swimming; he’s afraid of SINKING. His sisters tease him, but Jim just can’t get past the darkness and deepness of the scary swamp water. Jim decides to set out and find a small, well-lit swamp to practice in. After a fruitless search, Jim stumbles upon a strange-looking group of scaleless crocodiles swimming in a clear “swamp,” and using floaties and noodles to keep from sinking! Maybe Jim should try… and maybe he’ll have some unexpected help while he tries to be a swimming Jim.

Very cute. A multifaceted story, Windness does a great job balancing lessons on overcoming the fear of swimming (including a few instructions that little ones learning how to swim themselves will recognize) and being supportive of companions who may take longer to learn a skill. The text can be a little tough when reading aloud, as the Sim/Kim/Jim/swim sounds can result in some serious tongue-twisting, but the humor and resolution are both enjoyable. The exaggerated illustrations are colorful and the crocodile characters are charming, though scale can be a little difficult to determine, especially for the human characters. Other than that, the length was great, and JJ and I enjoyed this one. A fun summer read, especially during swimming season. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Jabari Jumps (Gaia Cornwall)

Hello, friends! Today’s book is Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, a sweet and simple story with an important lesson on overcoming fears.

Jabari has come to a decision: he is ready to go off the high diving board like the other kids. His father asks if he’s sure, and Jabari thinks he is: he’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swimming test. Still, when he sees how high the board is, he begins to get nervous. He allows the other children to go first. Then he has trouble climbing the ladder, so he takes a tiny break. He realizes that he forgot to stretch (can’t dive without stretching). In fact, there are a lot of little things standing in the way of his big jump. But his daddy takes him aside and gives him some advice: it’s okay to be scared to try new things. Sometimes, you just have to take a deep breath, tell yourself you’re ready… and jump.

This book is a wonderful example of how a classic concept or lesson can be made stunning by the right hand. Facing one’s fears and challenges is a timeless lesson for little ones, and the story conveys it in an honest and guileless way that young readers will appreciate. From there, it’s the choices and details that give the book a quiet radiance: earnest, energetic illustrations with some wonderful details (the subtle use of newsprint as concrete was very nice), a humorous final page, down to the much-appreciated choice to making the main characters a black family – there are extremely few swimming books that include people of color. The length is great, and JJ and I both really enjoyed it. A wonderful story of being brave, and the people who encourage us to be. Baby Bookworm approved!

Swimmy (Leo Lionni)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Swimmy by Leo Lionni, the timeless story of a little fish, a big ocean, and what we can accomplish when we work together.

Swimmy is part of a big school of very small red fish. Swimmy is just a bit different though: his scales are black, and everyone says he is the fastest swimmer in the school. One day, a giant tuna comes up and begins eating the other fish, and everyone begins to scatter. Swimmy swims as fast as he can, but once he stops fleeing, he is surprised to find the ocean filled with marvels that he missed by never leaving his school. Upon finding another flock of fish like him, he tries to convince them to come and see the wonders of the sea, but they are too scared of the big fish and want to stay hidden. So Swimmy comes up with a brilliant plan for everyone to safely swim in the ocean. It will take teamwork, practice, and trust, but Swimmy knows that when everyone works together, they can accomplish great things.

I loved this simple, straightforward parable about cooperation. The story is brisk and has a great, matter-of-fact tone; it keeps the action flowing smoothly without lingering, but still gets the point across. I loved the emphasis on both hard work AND working together; it’s not enough just to organize, everyone still has to put their time in. And I loved the lesson about not living in fear, especially if you can find people to support and help you overcome those obstacles. The sponge-painting-style art is lovely and unique, and the length is perfect. JJ and I really enjoyed this classic, and it’s definitely worth the read. Baby Bookworm approved!

Splashdance (Liz Starin)

Summer Reading Day 81: Hi, everyone! Ms. J was having a tough time today with toothaches, but she was still excited to read her story, Splashdance by Liz Starin. In Splashdance, a polar bear named Ursula is practicing diligently for a water ballet with her partner, until one day she arrives to find that the pool has hung up a sign: “NO BEARS.” Her swimming partner subsequently abandons her for someone he can swim with, leaving Ursula feeling alone and abandoned, disheartened by being banned from doing what she loves. Eventually, Ursula finds that she is not alone in being banned, and she and her fellow outsiders concoct a plan to live their dream of competing in the water ballet event.

This book dealt pretty heavily with the concepts of segregation and discrimination, and it did so very well. Certain plot points relating to Ursula being banned from the pool will certainly resonate with adults, such as when the pool manager insists that he will no longer allow bears because they are too hairy while letting other, hairier animals continue to swim there. Ursula’s plight is dealt with in a way that feels realistic and organic to adults, but is simple enough conceptually for kids to understand and identify with. Furthermore, her eventual triumph with her friends shows that while you may not always be able to change the minds of hateful people, good people will always have your back.

Otherwise, the length of the book was fine for Baby Bookworm, and the illustrations were cute and simple. But to us, it was the story that really shone, particularly after the incidences of racial and gender discrimination at the 2016 Rio Olympics. And ultimately, the message is a great one for all little (and big) readers: people may try to hold you back, but never let them destroy what you love to do; just do your best and you will always win.