PPBF – Yusra Swims

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, and as the 2020 Summer Olympics have been in the news this week, I thought this was a timely, new picture book biography to feature as a Perfect Picture Book.

Title: Yusra Swims

Written By: Julie Abery

Illustrated By: Sally Deng

Publisher/Date: Creative Editions/2020

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: swimming, refugee, Olympics, Syria, biography, rhyming, persistence, hope, dreams


Just a girl/With a dream./Olympic Games/Swimming team.

Brief Synopsis: The true story of Yusra Mardini, a Syrian swimmer, who fled Syria for Europe and who competed in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics as part of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about the Refugee Olympic Team and watch a short video featuring the athletes, including Yusra Mardini, who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics;
  • Learn about the geography and rich history of Syria before the current conflicts;
  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International;
  • Yusra’s dream was to swim for her country in the Olympics. Do you have a dream? Describe your dream in words or pictures.

Why I Like this Book:

Yusra Swims is a hopeful story of one young woman’s persistence and courage to overcome overwhelming obstacles. Especially as we and our children navigate the uncertainties, difficulties, and fear during this unprecedented pandemic and global shutdown, I found it particularly heartening to learn about this talented and courageous young woman.

As a teenager, Yusra fled a war-torn region, she used her swimming skills to save fellow refugees when their overloaded boat lost its motor and began to sink, she resettled in Germany, despite, presumably, not knowing the language, and then she competed in the first Refugee Olympic Team in history. If Yusra doesn’t inspire all of us to use our talents to succeed and benefit others, I don’t know who could!

Abery relates Yusra’s story in short, rhyming text, which makes this an ideal picture book to share even with younger children. Deng’s blue-palette illustrations provide further context as we journey with Yusra to the Olympics.

A Note about Craft:

Aspiring writers often hear that agents and editors are not interested in rhyming text. And rhyming picture book biographies are few and far between. But rhyme works well in this case, and I applaud Abery for utilizing it to quicken the pace to match Yusra’s sport, swimming. It also enables readers to navigate the difficult parts of Yusra’s journey more quickly and focus sooner on the hopeful aspects of her life.

In one poignant spread, Deng adds a kid-relatable detail to the jettisoned possessions: a stuffed animal. My eyes focused on that immediately, and I think kids will be drawn to that, too.

Visit Julie Abery’s website to see more of her children’s books. See interior spreads from Yusra Swims and learn about Deng at her website.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

13 responses to “PPBF – Yusra Swims

  1. Thank you so much for featuring Yusra Swims on PPBF, Patricia.

    • I’m so glad that I purchased this book & that the delivery arrived! Yusra is such an inspirational role model, and you’ve done an amazing job of capturing her story in so few words. I’m in awe!

  2. What a great story! I always admire authors who can convey the essence of someone’s challenges and persistence in few words. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  3. I’m anxious for my library to reopen so I can check out a copy of this beautifully-written book!

  4. What a courageous and inspiring refugee story. I vaguely remember hearing about the team, so am delighted to see Yusra’s story in a PB! Can’t wait to read it! Thanks for your sharing your timely find!

  5. I don’t know this story and it is very timely indeed.

  6. I admire Julie Abrey’s ability to write a NF PB in such concise rhyming stanzas.

  7. I just finished reading her memoir Butterfly and happened to come across this little book just as I about to write my blog review and I’m so glad I was able to link this as well, I love that there is a version for children, it is such an insightful story and a wonderful way to educate children about how life can change quickly for some people, but that we can keep hold of our dreams and hopes.

  8. Pingback: Perfect Pairing Observes Refugee Week 2020 | Wander, Ponder, Write

  9. Pingback: PPBF – Acknowledges Juneteenth and World Refugee Day 2020 | Wander, Ponder, Write

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