By Myiesha Speight,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Heartwarming graphic novel about swimming and friendship.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The middle school is named after Enith Brigitha, the first Black woman to win an Olympic swimming medal. Bree learns how to swim. Her swimming teacher gives her a history lesson on how Blacks lacked access to swimming pools due to segregation. This meant that few Black people knew how to swim and so couldn't pass that skill down.
Little changes can have a big effect. No one can take away your education. Ask questions. Stay curious. Never give up. Learn step by step, a little at a time. Finish strong.
Positive Role Models
A character admits he's afraid of pools and how they make him nervous. Bree's swim teacher teaches Bree how to swim and about Black people's historical relationship with swimming. The swim teacher also inspires Bree and teaches her important lessons. Bree overcomes her negative thoughts to swim. Characters demonstrate compassion, communication, teamwork, and perseverance.
Characters have a variety of skin tones, hairstyles and body types. They also eat Caribbean and African American food. Bree has negative thoughts and self-doubt, which she overcomes. A character addresses the stereotype that Black people can't swim, when in reality they can swim, fish, canoe, and do anything.
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Violence & Scariness
Brief depictions of racial violence. A characters knocks a candy bar from another's hand.
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A mean girl teases Bree and her friend, and calls one friend's homemade clothes "gross" and a "fashion emergency." Characters call each other "losers," "jerks," and "weenies." One character is called "anchor" and she's sensitive about the name. Mean girls call Bree "kiddie pool" after she goes to learn to swim with some young kids.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the graphic novel Swim Team, by Johnnie Christmas, won a 2023 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. It's about Bree, who recently moved to Florida and has no choice but to enroll in the Swim 101 class. Like many of her friends, Bree doesn't know how to swim. Miss Etta not only teaches her how to swim but also gives her the historical background on why many Black people don't know how to swim. As Miss Etta recounts the racial violence, there are brief depictions of Black people being attacked at pools. Mean girls from the rival school tease Bree and her friends. There's general name-calling, such as "jerks," "losers," and "weenies," and character-specific name-calling like "anchor" and "kiddie pool."
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What's the Story?
In SWIM TEAM, Bree and her dad move from Brooklyn to Florida because her dad got into an IT training program. At her new school, she quickly makes friends with her neighbor, Clara, and Clara's friend Humberto. When Bree tries to sign up for an elective class, she's upset to find out that her desired elective, Math puzzles, is full, and she has to take Swim 101 instead. Bree can't swim and doesn't want to admit it, so she skips class. Eventually, after an incident at the apartment's pool where Bree's neighbor Miss Etta rescues her, Bree admits she can't swim. Bree's able to convince Miss Etta, a former professional swimmer, to teach her how to swim. Through the lessons, Bree becomes a great swimmer and even wins a spot on her school's team. Bree's school team hasn't won a championship in years, but maybe with Bree, Clara, and their teammates, they'll be able to win even against their formidable rival, Holyoke Prep.
Is It Any Good?
This heartwarming graphic novel about swimming and friendship tackles racism and self-destructive negative thoughts. Some of the some plot points toward the end seem a little too convenient, but Swim Team's simple illustrations are powerful, beautiful depictions of diverse characters and historical events. Bree's struggle with negativity at one point overwhelms her, but thanks to swimming, she's able to move forward. Miss Etta sheds light on the racism many Black people experienced at swimming pools and its long-lasting effects. Some readers may not have been aware of this and will have learned it thanks to this book.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about racism in Swim Team. How did it feel to read about the racial violence Black people experienced at swimming pools? What did you find most surprising or enlightening about these incidents?
Bree struggles with negative thoughts and she finds that swimming helps her get past them. What are some other ways to manage negativity?
Bree, and Miss Etta years before, had a falling out with their respective friend groups. Have you ever fallen out with a friend? How did you approach the situation? What can you learn from Miss Etta and Bree about handling similar situations?
- Author: Johnnie Christmas
- Illustrator: Johnnie Christmas
- Genre: Graphic Novel
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History, Middle School
- Character Strengths: Communication, Compassion, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperAlley
- Publication date: May 17, 2022
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors
- Last updated: January 30, 2023
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Where to Read
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