Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds
The Sammy Lee StoryAuthor Paula Yoo Illustrated by Dom Lee ISBN 9781600604539 Binding Trade Paper Publisher Lee & Low Books Publication Date December 13, 2011 Size 210 x 279 mm
On a summer day in 1932, twelve-year-old Sammy Lee watched enviously as divers catapulted into the public swimming pool. Sammy desperately wanted to try diving himself, but the Korean American boy-like any person of color-was only allowed to use the pool one day a week.
This discrimination did not weaken Sammy's newfound passion for diving, and soon he began a struggle between his dream of becoming an Olympic champion and his father's wish for him to become a doctor. Over sixteen years Sammy faced numerous challenges, but he overcame them all and fulfilled both his dream and his father's. In 1948 Dr. Sammy Lee dove into Olympic history. A matter of seconds after his final platform dive, the scores appeared and Sammy Lee became the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal.
Sammy Lee's story of determination and triumph sets an extraordinary example for anyone striving to fulfill a dream. Winner of Lee & Low's New Voices Award, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds will inspire all who read it.
"Handsomely illustrated and compassionately written without sentimentality, this picture book biography exemplifies what this genre should be: humanizing and meaningful. In 1932, 12-year-old Sammy Lee could only swim in the public pool on Wednesdays, the only day open to people of color, and Sammy was Korean American. Torn between his dream of diving and his father's urging him to become a doctor, Sammy managed to achieve both, despite barriers and prejudice, and was the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal. Scratchboard-style, sepia-toned paintings in wax-covered acrylics create a textured effect both visually and contextually. The title refers to the 16 years he trained for the 16 seconds it took to perform his winning dive. This hero's inspirational story demonstrates determination and dedication by a man who never gave up and is still an active athlete today at the age of 84." -Kirkus Reviews, starred
"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 non-whites. 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 facts, particularly on the boy's seemingly 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 impact; 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." -Booklist, starred
"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." -School Library Journal
"Yoo debuts with an inspiring tribute to the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold
medal, in 1948. The story begins when Sammy is 12 years old in 1932 California and documents his struggle to reach the top of the diving world. The son of Korean immigrants, he is not allowed to swim at the public pool except on Wednesdays, 'when people of color were allowed to go inside.' Third-person omniscient narration grants readers access to Sammy's thoughts and feelings. Lee's (Baseball Saved Us) sepia-tinged textured illustrations, made by scratching images out of wax melted over acrylic paints, lend a graceful, respectful tone to the story. Especially noteworthy are three vertical panels depicting his winning dive (an echo of an early three-panel spread that shows one of Sammy's awkward first diving attempts). Touching on themes of discrimination and determination, this motivational tale concludes with an author's note that provides details of Sammy's post-Olympic life." -Publishers Weekly
"Although people of color were permitted to use the public pool only once a week, Korean-American Sammy Lee (twelve years old in 1932) practiced his beloved diving so diligently that at age eighteen he caught the eye coach. Still unable to use the local pool, Sammy practiced daily with his demanding coach by jumping into a pit filled with sand, developing powerful leg muscles. Meanwhile, Sammy's father was pressuring him to become a doctor instead of a diver, but eventually Sammy achieved both goals: in 1948, at the age of twenty-eight, Dr. Sammy Lee competed in the London Olympics, winning a bronze and a gold medal. With their textured effect, Dom Lee's scratchboard illustrations (using beeswax, acrylic, oil paint, and colored pencil) convey immediacy -- one can feel the prickliness of the sand or the heat of the California sun -- while the brown and gold colors and sepia tones make it clear that these are past events. An author's note gives additional biographical details. Yoo smoothly incorporates the historical context through Sammy's reactions to pervasive racism. She creates a picture of a person who succeeded through determined hard work -- not a larger-than-life hero, but an ordinary person of great achievement." -The Horn Book
"In 1932, in Southern California, a sign at the public pool read "Members Only Except Wednesday," and 12-year-old Korean-American Sammy Lee knew that meant that people of color could swim only on Wednesdays. Sammy didn't stop watching, however, and it was diving that fascinated him. Until he was 18, he tried to teach himself to dive by imitation and with a friend's help. At 18 he caught the eye of a coach, Jim Ryan, who agreed to train him. Even with a White Coach, Lee still could be at the pool on Wednesdays only. Ryan made a giant sand pit in his own back yard and put in a diving board. But sand is less forgiving than water, and Lee had to learn to always finish on his feet. Before he earned his gold medal at the 1948 London Olympics, he served in the Army and became a physician, and in all these pursuits, his determination helped him soar against the odds." -Chicago Tribune
"Korean-American Sammy Lee (twelve years old in 1932) practiced diving so diligently that he caught the eye of a diving coach. Meanwhile, Sammy's father was pressuring him to become a doctor, but eventually Sammy achieved both goals: in 1948 Dr. Sammy Lee won bronze and gold Olympic medals. With their textured effect, the scratchboard illustrations convey immediacy." -The Horn Book Guide
"In her first picture book, 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 struggle with his father, and the prejudice he faced. Washed in nostalgic sepia tones, Lee's acrylic-and-wax textured illustrations 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." -Book Links
"Paula Yoo's Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds is a biographical story which evokes human endurance, resilience and triumph over justice. Her story recounts the amazing journey of a young Korean American boy growing up in 1930s California, which, at that time in history, enacted racist policies in reaction to immigrants from Asian countries. Sammy Lee may have done the deed in sixteen seconds that made him the first Asian American to win a gold medal in the Olympics (in fact, he won two), but his whole life has been an example to live by. . . . Following both his father's dream and his own dream, this extraordinary young man becomes a doctor, and, at age 28, an Olympic champion. Illustrator Dom Lee's use of subdued, calm tones takes us back to the 1930s and parallels the serious tone of the story. Evoking our protagonist Sammy's optimism and hope, Lee also splatters in tones of blues and reds. Sammy is not just a hero to immigrants or Asians - he is a true U.S. champion, clothed in red, white and blue, as he receives his gold medal." -Korean Quarterly
"This book would be good for a biography project. Students could do research to find out more about Sammy Lee. This would also be a good example when studying discrimination."
-Board of Cooperative Educational Services
DOM LEE was born in Seoul, South Korea and received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. With his unique style of art combining techniques of painting and scratching details in encaustic wax, Lee has illustrated many award-winning picture books. He lives with his wife and children in Demarest, New Jersey.