Julie Abery’s new narrative nonfiction picture book,
SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB:
How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory
Kids Can Press / Illus. Chris Sasaki
released TODAY, May 4th, 2021!
A vibrant, original picture book.―Booklist, starred review
Exudes inspiration and dedication.– Kirkus Reviews
Julie Abery has visited the blog several times this past year, but we have been waiting for SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB!
Check out our previous Book Birthday celebrations for the release of her LITTLE ANIMAL series as well as THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN.
Julie Abery: Hello Erin, Such a pleasure to be chatting with you again.
Q 1. When did you first dive into writing for children? What has helped you stay afloat since then?
Julie Abery: My first foray into writing for children was a winter play for the Early Childhood Center where I worked. Dancing snowflakes, ice-skating polar bears, and a missing present rap kept me on my toes as 100 under 5s bumbled around on stage. After writing and producing a few more plays, I finally dived into writing for children more seriously. Over the next few years, I took lots of courses, wrote some wobbly manuscripts, read a lot of mentor texts, and attended a SCBWI conference. When I had really got a grip on my rhythm and rhyming skills, I entered a few contests and slowly I began to find my voice. It was winning one of those contests that opened the door to me signing with an agent and getting my first book contract.
I have a wonderful group of critique buddies and kidlit friends that help me navigate my way through the ups and downs of the children’s publishing world. Writing can often feel like swimming in an endless sea, but if you keep diving in sooner or later you will find that pearl, which might just turn into your next book deal!
Q 2. Which swimming event best describes your writing process for this book?
- IM/ Individual Medley (Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly, Freestyle)
- High Dive
- Treading water
Julie Abery: This made me smile, Erin! I started my writing process for Sakamoto’s Swim Club on the ‘High Dive’! I was determined to write it in prose. I had the story arc in my head, but when I hit the water, I knew something didn’t feel right. So, I switched to ‘Backstroke’ for a while and let the water gently rush over me and the story deepen in my heart, and that’s when rhyming verse started to flow.
Q 3. They say most books are a tiny bit autobiographical. Are you more like Coach Sakamoto or his swimmers? Bill Smith?
Julie Abery: What a great question! I must admit that I felt a strong attachment to Coach Sakamoto’s story. As a teacher, Sakamoto worked tirelessly to give the kids he taught the opportunity to be the best they could be. He took the swimmers under his wing and applied his scientific knowledge to develop new techniques and improve his swimmers’ strength and speed, despite barely swimming himself. He encouraged them to apply for swimming scholarships at universities. He was dedicated to his young students, he believed in their potential, and in return they trained hard and adopted his tough work ethic.
I connect with Sakamoto because I have seen first-hand how important teachers can be in their students’ lives. As a teacher of the very young, I have always tried to make their first school experience a positive one, where they can move ahead in education excited to learn and meet their potential. Oh, and one more thing… I am not a great swimmer either!
Q 4. What do you hope young readers will take away from this wonderful book?
Julie Abery: Sakamoto’s Swim Club is a story with many themes: breaking free of disadvantage, the importance of a good coach, pride and dedication to the discipline of a sport. Written in spare rhyming verse, with just a few essential thoughts on every page, I hope that young readers will use the space this creates to reflect and be curious, plunge into Chris Sasaki’s vibrant illustrations, and perhaps be inspired in their own lives. And if they love the story, they should read the author’s note at the back for more detail on the Three-Year Swim Club and take some time to investigate themselves.
Julie Abery: Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Erin.
Thank YOU, Julie, for sharing this fabulous book with us.
To learn more about Julie Abery, follow her on Twitter: @juliedawnabery