Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 6, 2022

Book Giveaway: SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB by Julie Abery

Julie Abery has written a new picture book, SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB, illustrated Chris Sasaki and published by Kids Can Press. They have agreed to share a copy with one lucky winner living in the United States.

Just leave a comment, reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know how you shared the good news. If you follow my blog and have it delivered daily, let me know in the comments so I can put the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter or reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. So, thanks for helping Julie and Chris.


The inspirational and little-known story of a dedicated teacher who coached Hawaiian swimmers all the way to the Olympics, beautifully told in simple rhyme. When the children of workers on a 1930s Maui sugar plantation were chased away from playing in the nearby irrigation ditches, local science teacher Soichi Sakamoto had an idea. He offered to take responsibility for the children — and then he began training them how to swim. Using his science background, Sakamoto devised his own innovative coaching techniques: he developed a strict practice regime for the kids, building their strength and endurance by using the ditch water’s natural current. The children worked hard under the dedicated Sakamoto’s guidance, and their skills improved. They formed a swim club and began to dominate in swimming events around the world. And then one day, the proud Sakamoto saw an impossible dream come true — Olympic gold!

In a unique approach that makes for a moving read-aloud, Julie Abery uses limited rhyming text to tell the little-known story of Coach Sakamoto and the Three-Year Swim Club. The stunning art of award-winning and highly acclaimed Chris Sasaki perfectly complements the lyrical storytelling. This inspiring picture book offers excellent lessons in perseverance, believing in yourself and not letting others define you, while wonderfully capturing how one person can make a huge difference in the lives of others. In highlighting the team’s “bright and loud” presence at events, with their Hawaiian dress and ukulele, it also encourages children to take pride in their heritage and view it as a strength. An author’s note with photos and more information tell the fuller story of Soichi Sakamoto and his Three-Year Swim Club.


Coach Sakamoto’s story came to my attention in 2017 as I searched for an idea to work on during a month-long nonfiction writing workshop. Olympic stories were on my radar and when I read about Soichi Sakamoto and his swim team in Maui in the 1930s, I knew I wanted to tell the story.

I found a wealth of newspaper clippings to mine for facts, with many articles written by Coach Sakamoto and his swimmers. I was also fortunate to connect with Coach Keith at the Hawaii Swim Club, who worked alongside Coach Sakamoto.

Sakamoto taught sixth grade science. He became a swim coach to support the children of the sugar plantation workers, who often got into trouble for swimming in the irrigation ditches. He asked the plantation owners’ permission to use a section of the ditch to teach them to swim, even though he wasn’t a strong swimmer himself, and so began the Olympic dream.

When I started drafting the story I intended to write it in prose, but before long, spare rhyming verse ideas began to emerge in my text:

On Maui, also known as the Valley Isle, streams rush down lush mountain slopes. In the 1930s, water tumbled to the valley and flowed into irrigation ditches that nourished the island’s sugar plantations.

As the sugar cane industry on the islands had grown, so an influx of migrants had arrived. They toiled dawn to dusk, often leaving their children to fend for themselves.

I loved the rhythmic verse. Reading it aloud I heard the consistent strokes of a swimmer, their breathing pattern, and the rhythm of cutting cane. It felt like a perfect way to tell the story and so, with my ‘voice’ set, I wrote the story.

With such a pared-back text, the story needed a very detailed author’s note, which acts as another chapter to the book. It fills in more story details, clarifies time passing, the meaning of the Three-Year Swim Club, Pearl Harbor, the war, and fighting for your country. Finally, the editor and I were thrilled to acquire a black and white photograph of the team courtesy of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum to complete the book.

As a teacher myself, I was deeply moved by Sakamoto’s unfailing commitment to the children he coached, and his life-long passion to give them the opportunity to be the best they could be – many of his swimmers went on to be accepted by US universities on sports scholarships. He shaped the lives of so many in such a positive way.

I hope that readers young and old will be inspired by this story of perseverance and dedication. Sakamoto and his swimmers kept their dreams alive, despite the huge setbacks, and achieved what nobody thought possible.


Author Julie Abery is a former preschool teacher who shaped her career reading picture books to children from around the world. She has a passion for using rhyme, rhythm, and repetition to encourage language acquisition, and combines nonfiction with rhyming verse to tell inspirational stories.

Originally from England, she now calls Switzerland home.

Julie’s books include the Little Animal Friends board book series, Yusra Swims, The Old Man and the Penguin: A True Story of True Friendship and her latest release, Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory.

For more, visit Julie at:


Twitter @juliedawnabery

Facebook @julieabery

Instagram @juliedawnabery


Chris Sasaki is an animation art director, illustrator, and writer living in Oakland, California. He’s worked at Pixar Animation Studios and has designed characters for Monsters University (2013)  Inside Out (2015), Coco (2017), and Onward (2020). He also served as production designer on the Oscar nominated shorts, Sanjay’s Super Team (2015) and Weekends (2017). Some of his other past clients include LAIKA Entertainment, Blue Sky Studios, Disney Television Animation, DreamWorks, Jim Henson Studios, and Tonko House.

In 2016, Chris made his first venture into books with a short story collection for young adults entitled GHOST (Illustratus / Chronicle Books).  He also illustrated Home is a Window (Holiday House), and Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist (Penguin Random House), which received the 2019 Dilys Evans Founders Award from the Society of Illustrators. His work has been featured at Gallery Nucleus, Cartoon Brew, the New York Times, and Red Cap Greeting Cards.

Literary representation by Kirsten Hall of Catbird Agency.


Julie, thank you for sharing your book and journey with us. I love stories that provide inspiration about little known people that make a big difference in children’s lives. It is so heartwarming to hear how this one man shared his skills with underprivileged children, worked with them everyday and showed them the way to dominating swimming events around the world. I think you should pursue a movie contract and bring this story to the big screen. Chris did a gorgeous job with the illustrations. Good luck with the book.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I’d love to read this book and win a copy. Thank you for the offer and the insights into writing style! –Melisa Wrex (@mowrex on Twitter)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this book so much! I wish the give-away was also offered to residents of Canada! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Would be fine by me Susan, Europe too, actually. What do you think Kathy?


  3. What a wonderful story, Julie! I had never heard about Coach Sakamoto, but am eager to learn more. And the illustrations capture the story so well, Chris. Congratulations to you both!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Such an inspiring subject for a unique NF pb–I love how you switched to rhyming text, too! Cathy, I follow your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love this story, with so many layers and points for discussion. What an inspiration! I’m so glad Sakamoto’s story is out in the world!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a wonderful book! Best of luck to you both. [Newsletter subscriber.]

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great story by a great author! Julie also gives great critiques! Thanks for sharing with us.
    Kathy, I follow your blog and have reposted to Facebook and Twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. ❤️ your books. I have checked them out of our library. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I can’t wait to both learn about this teacher as well as study the rhyming text that mimics the rhythms of swimming and cutting cane. I’m an email subscriber and shared:


  10. Such an inspiring and heart-felt book -congrats!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a terrific story, love the illustrations too. I’d love to have a copy. I’ve tweeted:, and shared: I also follow daily by email: crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com.
    Thanks! Have a super day!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What a jewel of a story! My nephew’s family just moved to Hawaii and her girls would love this.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This book sounds fabulous and the art seems to bring it to life even more. I love how you shared the prose you turned to rhyme. Looking forward to reading this one!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This is an amazing story. You really found a gem and I agree…I could already see the movie!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is one of my favorite books from 2021! I visited the Sugar Museum around the time Sakamoto came out! Congratulations Julie.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What a great story! I’m impressed by the transformation of the narrative to such sparce beautiful text.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Congratulations, Julie and Chris! What a cool story and the illustrations are gorgeous!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m inspired by Coach Sakamoto. I especially like how he used the ditches’ natural currents to build up the swimmers’ endurance. A wonderful, inspirational, story!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. This looks simply smashing! It touches so many things I love – swimming, lyrical prose, impressionist art, and Hawaii!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. This looks SO cool! Shared on FB, Twitter, and Pinterest.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. [blog & twitter follower here] – I’ve been waiting for this book – love hearing how you came to the lyrical prose. Congratulations.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. This looks amazing. Shared on FB. Marilyn Ostermiller

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Wonderful! I can’t wait to read this book. It sounds fascinating! Thanks so much for sharing. Congratulations to both of you!

    Shared on Twitter and I follow by email. 🙂


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