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Olympics!

Learning About the Summer and Winter Olympic Games

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Cover Art of the picture book Olympics!
Puffin Books
If you are anxious to teach your children about the summer and winter Olympics before the next games, I'd recommend B.G. Hennessy's book Olympics! This softbound picture book is an entertaining and straightforward account for four- to eight-year-olds that I think older children will also enjoy. The colorful artwork by Michael Chesworth ranges from full page scenes of the Olympics to a series of small illustrations depicting individual athletes preparing for the games.

The Book's Appeal

What makes Olympics! especially appealing? Just before the Olympics there are always a number of children's books on the subject available. Many of them focus on an individual sport and include information on athletes and how the United States and other countries have done in the past. They generally also include photographs of athletes and previous Olympic Games. Still other books are like scrapbooks with little copy and a potpourri of images, often organized by sport. Children who already know something about the Olympics and are eagerly awaiting the games will be particularly interested in these books. However, all children will appreciate the Olympics more if they have a basic understanding of the what goes on, from start to finish, and that is what Hennessy does so well in Olympics!

History and Preparations for the Olympics

The picture book starts with a page on the origin of the Olympics. It then proceeds to individuals and teams preparing for the Olympics. The author then discusses all of the things that need to be made for the Olympics, from the uniforms to the medals. She lists the people involved in preparations, from the architects designing arenas to the farmers growing flowers for the winners. Hennessy does a good job of creating the sense of excitement that goes on at so many levels as the time for the Olympics approaches.

Chesworth's illustrations complement the text, as for example, his bustling Olympic village. By this point in the book, Hennessy has talked about the athletes getting ready, the workers preparing, the buildings being created, and now she describes the athletes arriving at the new Olympic village from all over the world.

The Summer and Winter Games

Notice that the author is still going in chronological order. Many books flip back and forth in time, but in this case, it really helps the reader's understanding to have the author's "start to finish" descriptions. The book continues with a wonderful description (text and art) of the opening parade. With a large illustration of the Olympic flag being carried, followed by athletes marching behind the flags of their countries, the author describes the meaning of the Olympic rings on the flag: "Each ring represents a region of the world: Europe, Asia, Australia, the Americas, and Africa. Each ring is connected to its neighbor to symbolize the friendship of the Olympic Games."

In her descriptions of the games, Hennessy talks about the summer and winter Olympics and the sports represented at each. Chesworth handily illustrates a variety of competitions with bright and active artwork. As the competitions end, athletes are awarded medals, but not everyone wins. Many athletes are disappointed not to win. "But every athlete, whether he or she has won a medal or not, is now an Olympian." The games are now over and everyone leaves, but they all have their memories of the Olympics.

My Recommendation

If you plan to watch the Olympics, now's the time to start talking about the games with your children. Olympics! is a good book to read aloud more than once. The illustrations are detailed enough to require a second look, and if you are like me, you will learn more about the Olympics along with your child. While I recommend the book for ages 4-8 particularly, Olympics! makes a great family read aloud for all ages. While the book is now out of print, you will probably be able to borrow a copy of Olympics! from your local public library. (Puffin Books, 2000. ISBN: 0140384871)

Additional Olympics-Related Recommendations

For more good books, see my annotated list, with cover art, of Recommended Children's Books About the Olympics. If you'd like some ideas of family activities that you and your kids can enjoy and learn from, see Summer Olympics For Kids. To learn more about the Games, read the article History of the Olympics: Creating the Modern Olympic Games.

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