Sunday, July 3, 2016

What are the Summer Olympics?

What are the Summer Olympics?
Gail Herman
Grosset & Dunlap, 2016 108 pgs
Grades 3-6
What was...? series

A new installment in this popular series just in time for the 2016 Olympics. The series' traditional format is used to trace the history of the Olympics from ancient times to modern. While mostly focusing on the modern games, readers learn about this famous global happening, and events are put withing historical and social context, exposing children to a brief over-view of world history for the past one-hundred plus years.Integration of the games, including the introduction of women and people of color, demonstrates the changing world, as the twentieth century progresses and barriers break down. Cartoon illustrations can be found on every page and a sixteen page photo insert in the middle of the book shows readers actual images of some of the key players. A bibliography and timeline at the end give researchers further information, as does a list of movies to watch featuring Olympic stars.

It is an Olympic year and, partly to get away from the presidential election, I am throwing myself into it. The Olympics are a great way to celebrate global unity, especially in scary and unsettled times, and the heartwarming stories of the athletes captivate even non-enthusiasts of sports. This brief overview of the games, mostly focusing on the modern re-boot beginning in 1896, puts the Olympics within a historic and social framework of the times. Some standout athletes are featured and a few exceptional stories are shared. So many important world events happened around the back-drop of the Olympics and they all seem that much more extreme when presented in such a succinct format. My favorite part of the book is when Jesse Owens and other African-American athletes stuck it to Hitler in the 1936 games. The most shocking story was of the terrorist attacks on the Israeli athletes in 1972. Although I was alive a the time (although only six) I do not remember this tragedy happening. The book does not shy away from discrimination, AIDS or performance enhancing drug use even though it is intended for a young audience, but I feel that it was done in an age appropriate way. My teenage daughter picked up the book and was reading out-loud some of the more fascinating bits while it was sitting on the kitchen table, proving that it has multi-generational appeal. A great introduction to the famous games.

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