Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How A Teacher Led An Unlikely Team To Victory

Ya’ll know I love a picture book biography, and I have to tell you that Sakamoto’s Swim Club by Julie Abery might be one of my new favorites. With simple rhyming text, this book tells the little-known story of Soichi Sakamoto, a science teacher who dedicated his life to coaching hundreds of Hawaiian children on the Three-Year Swim Club.

Sakamoto’s Swim Club starts out simply enough. We see a sugar plantation and children swimming in an irrigation ditch, along with a police officer who chases them away as a teacher looks on from his classroom. I was hooked!

As the story unfolds, we follow Soichi Sakamoto’s journey to becoming a swimming coach. After coming to an agreement with Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, Sakamoto began training children to swim in the plantation’s irrigation ditch. Though he was not a powerful swimmer himself, he used his background in science to develop training techniques.

After Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company built a community swimming pool, Sakamoto and his team began training daily to reach their dream of competing in the 1940 Olympics. Unfortunately, World War II kept the Three- Year Swim Club from reaching this goal, but in 1948, one of Sakamoto’s students, Bill Smith, took home the gold for the 400-meter freestyle race.

Sakamoto’s Swim Club is a wonderful story of determination and persistence, encouraging children to work hard for their dreams and never give up.

Chris Sasaki’s illustrations are absolute perfection. I love the vibrancy of the colors and the way they capture the beauty of Maui, but I really appreciate the way they pair perfectly with the sparse text. Sasaki’s experience in animation really shows in the way he tells a story through his illustrations.

This is such a unique picture book biography because it is told in simple verse, making for a great read aloud. The back matter contains a wonderful author’s note detailing the specifics of the Three-Year Swim Club’s journey to the gold.

Sakamoto’s Swim Club officially releases next week, but you can preorder your copy today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Julie Abery is children’s book author and former illustrator based in Lausanne, Switzerland. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her website at

Chris Sasaki is an illustrator, animation art director, and writer based in Oakland, California. Please visit his website at to learn more about him and his work.

Many thanks to Kids Can Press for providing me with a review copy of Sakamoto’s Swim Club. I can’t wait to share this one with my little swimmer.

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