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Sixteen Years In Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story Hardcover – April 1, 2005
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From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 3–This inspirational biography recognizes the life of the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal, at the 1948 Games in London. Even though he grew up in California when "people of color" were only allowed to use the public swimming pools one day a week, Lee was never discouraged from his dream. In college, he made an agreement with his father that he would keep good enough grades to enter medical school, but continue to enter diving competitions. Yoo brings the biography to a dramatic conclusion with the 16 seconds of a three-and-a-half somersault dive. Lee's painterly illustrations give texture and depth to the full-page spreads. More than a story about discrimination and unfair treatment, this story shows one young man's determination and resolve toward accomplishing a goal in life.–Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Gr. 2-4. In her first picture book, winner of the publisher's New Voices Award, Yoo introduces Sammy Lee, the son of Korean immigrants who overcame formidable odds to become an Olympic diving champion as well as a doctor. In 1932, at the age of 12, Sammy fell in love with diving, but his local pool was open only once a week to nonwhites. He faced opposition at home, too; his father wanted him to focus on a "respectful" profession--medicine. Yoo describes how Sammy found a coach, maintained a grueling balance between academics and training, and finally earned both a medical degree and an Olympic gold medal. The minimal, well-shaped language focuses on powerful scenes that demonstrate Sammy's indestructible determination, his struggles with his father, and the prejudice he faced. Washed in nostalgic sepia tones, Dom Lee's acrylic-and-wax textured illustrations are reminiscent of his fine work in Ken Mochizuki's watershed Baseball Saved Us (1993), and like Yoo's understated words, the uncluttered images leave a deep impression; an aerial view of Sammy facing the blue expanse of the Olympic pool is particularly affecting. A page of facts closes this handsome, inspiring biography, which will make both an excellent read-aloud for younger children or a read-alone for confident older ones. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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However, Sammy's father wanted him to become a doctor rather than an athlete. Six years later, when he was eighteen, Sammy was attending a swim and diving competition, and between meets, he sneaked into the pool area to practice. Jim Ryan saw him and agreed to become his coach. Sammy managed to keep his grades up while practicing diving, becoming the first nonwhite elected student body president in his high school and being offered a full scholarship at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Yet, he still faced discrimination, and his grades fell during his first year of college because he spent more time diving than studying. After seeing a rude customer berating his father in the restaurant and his father responding without losing his temper, Sammy understood why his father wanted him to do well in school. They struck a deal that Sammy could continue diving as long as his grades were good enough for medical school.
The 1940 Olympics were cancelled because of World War II, and Sammy thought his Olympic dreams were dead. He did go on to become a doctor in the Army in 1946, but that year he also entered the national diving championship, winning the high-platform dive with the highest score ever, and was able to enter the London, England, Olympics in 1948. While he continued to face discrimination, rather than getting angry he decided to prove his worth in the Olympics and show that people should not be judged by the color of their skin. What happened in those sixteen seconds that followed sixteen years of training? Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, the true story of Dr. Sammy Lee, has deservedly won numerous book awards including the New Voices Award. It is a wonderful story of dreaming, working hard, overcoming challenges, and being victorious. While it will be of special interest to children of Asian American descent, it illustrates for us all what Sammy's father had told him. "In America, you can achieve anything if you set your heart to it."