Graphic Novel Review: Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas

What happens when you are terrified of swimming yet have to do it to pass a class? In Swim Team, a new graphic novel from Harper Kids, Evie learns about the history of swimming in the Black community. Read on for a review of the graphic novel Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas.

Swim Team graphic novel

Publisher provided a ARC for review, however all thoughts and opinions our own. This post contains affiliate links.  We earn a small commission for items purchased.

In Swim Team, a young Black tween named Bree and her father move to Florida for her father’s new job opportunity.  Bree enters a new school excited to join the math league but when no space is available, she is told that Swim 101 will be her elective.  The problem is, Bree doesn’t know how to swim and is actually terrified of water.

Bree starts skipping swim class and is caught but rather than being angry, her Dad signs her up for swim lessons.  When a student from a rival school mocks her for being in the kiddie class, Bree quits the lessons.  Soon after, a terrifying incident happens when Bree falls into her complex’s pool, her kind neighbor Ms. Etta saves her and then gives Bree swim lessons.

Ms. Etta is a wealth of swim knowledge including teaching Bree that her ancestors were always swimmers.  During segregation, Black families were not allowed in public pools and it was a horrible cycle that created a generation of Black that just didn’t swim.  Ms. Etta coaches Bree who eventually becomes comfortable in the pool and even joins the swim team and Bree and her team goes up against their rival school in an exciting swim meet towards the end of the graphic novel.

Swim Team weaves Bree’s fear of swimming with the history of segregated pools.  That history is key in understanding that Black communities just didn’t choose to learn how to swim, they were actively prevented from accessing swimming pools across the country.  As a Black woman myself, I’ve heard tales of near-death drawing experiences from many members of my family who never learned when they were younger.  

Author Johnnie Christmas captures that fear and unease that Bree feels around the pool perfectly and I say this as a kid who used to feel the same exact way until I learned how to swim.  He also captures just how a community can embrace a new family and Bree’s friendships with her classmates and Ms. Etta is truly heartwarming.  

Swim Team is filled with thoughtful and realistic tidbits like Bree learning swimming-safe hairstyles and her frustration that her Dad has to work constantly.  Swim Team is colored beautifully and the illustrations are detailed and vibrant.  

While reviewing this novel, I like that the author included word bubbles that portrayed Bree’s intrusive thoughts about pools because again, it captures that fear that many Black children have especially if they don’t know how to swim.  Swim Team is a must-read for any graphic novel fan who will get a fun story and some Black history to think about.

Rating: 4.5/5 

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