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Why Don't more Black Kids Know How to Swim?

Why Don’t More Black Kids Know How to Swim?


The summer is almost here and lots of kids will be heading to the pool. Yet statistically, more black children die as a result of drowning than white children.


Learning to swim is a very serious issue in the Black community. Longstanding issues of race and class have meant that pools are either not present in Black communities or are poorly maintained. Parents who can’t swim are less likely to have children who can swim or encourage their children to learn.


Why Don't more Black Kids Know How to Swim?


Drawing from his personal experience of nearly drowning as a child, award-winning and bestselling Author and graphic novelist Johnnie Christmas thought it important to look at the role of swimming in the black community. Johnnie’s inspiration for SWIM TEAM was to encourage young African American children to get in the pool and learn to swim.


This splashy, contemporary middle-grade graphic novel debut follows young Bree as she faces her fear of swimming head on, while at the same time confronting the longstanding barriers of systemic racism set within the public pool system.



In SWIM TEAM, we meet Bree, a smart yet anxious kid who comes face to face with one of her biggest fears.


Bree can’t wait for her first day at her new middle school, Enith Brigitha, home to the Mighty Manatees—until she’s stuck with the only elective that fits her schedule, the dreaded Swim 101. The thought of swimming makes Bree more than a little queasy, yet she’s forced to dive headfirst into one of her greatest fears. Lucky for her, Etta, an elderly occupant of her apartment building and former swim team captain, is willing to help.


With Etta’s training and a lot of hard work, Bree suddenly finds her swim-crazed community counting on her to turn the school’s failing team around. But that’s easier said than done, especially when their rival, the prestigious Holyoke Prep, has everything they need to leave the Mighty Manatees in their wake.


Can Bree defy the odds and guide her team to a state championship, or have the Manatees swum their last lap—for good?


“A powerful, knowledgeable, and pressing exploration of the intersection where swimming meets Black identity.  Empowerment through swimming and swim team is well-embodied in Bree, a smart, perseverant, anxious kid who readers will embrace instantly. The friendly and familiar style of Christmas’ linework pours out into some true artistry.” — Booklist (starred review)



I spoke with Johnnie to talk more about SWIM TEAM and the personal and societal history that inspired it.







Johnnie Christmas is a #1 New York Times Best Selling graphic novelist. Best known for co-creating the series ANGEL CATBIRD with celebrated writer Margaret Atwood, he has adapted William Gibson’s lost screenplay for ALIEN 3 into a critically acclaimed graphic novel of the same name. He was nominated for the Outstanding Cartoonist 2019 Joe Shuster Award for his graphic novel, FIREBUG. He also co-created the series SHELTERED. A graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, he earned a BFA in Communication Design/Illustration.


He currently lives in Vancouver.  Follow him on IG: @johnniexmas.



Wife. Mom. Believer. Writer. Advocate.

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