Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story


The inspirational true story of Sammy Lee, a Korean American who overcame discrimination to realize both his father's desire that he become a doctor and his own dream of becoming an Olympic champion diver.
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The inspirational true story of Sammy Lee, a Korean American who overcame discrimination to realize both his father's desire that he become a doctor and his own dream of becoming an Olympic champion diver.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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." The straightforward, somewhat lengthy account chronicles how Sammy trains by diving into a sandpit the other days of the week-which leads to a fortuitous decision to enroll in gymnastics to help him with his sand landings-finds, a coach, and makes peace with his father, who urges Sammy to forgo his Olympic dream in favor of becoming a doctor. Third-person omniscient narration grants readers access to Sammy's thoughts and feelings. As he prepares for his gold-medal dive, "He heard the sound of water lapping against the sides of the pool, the murmuring of the people, the beating of his heart." 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 about Sammy's post-Olympic life. Ages 6-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Lee's monochromatic illustrations make for a powerful lead as we see Sammy, a Korean-American boy of twelve, staring through a wire fence watching white children enjoy a privilege he's allowed only once a week. This is not the only prejudice Sammy faces. His father is determined that he become a doctor, not an Olympic diver as the boy hopes. When Sammy witnesses his honorable father being treated disrespectfully by a restaurant customer, he understands his father's wish for him and works to earn both honors. He becomes a doctor serving in the Korean War and, in the 1948 Olympics, is the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal. The author does a good job of selecting meaningful vignettes to describe both Lee's struggles and his successes. 2005, Lee and Low, Ages 7 to 10.
—Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
K-Gr 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 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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. (author's note) (Picture book/biography. 6-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781600604539
  • Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/2010
  • Pages: 120
  • Sales rank: 302,428
  • Age range: 6 - 11 Years
  • Lexile: AD880L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 10.70 (h) x 0.20 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 18, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    1932 - California - What was Sammy's dream? What was Sammy's fat

    1932 - California - What was Sammy's dream? What was Sammy's father's dream? That year the city of Los Angeles was hosting a very special event, do you know what it was? Summer of 1938 - Sammy is 18 and searches for a coach to assist him to reach his dream. Does Sammy find a coach? What class did Sammy enroll into further pursue his dream? Sammy faced discrimination, he could not attend his high school prom at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Yet, he received a full scholarship to Occidental College in Los Angeles. Read this fascinating book and learn more about the life of Sammy Lee. *Informative. *Enlightening. *Educational.

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    inspiring story--"In America, you can achieve anything if you set your heart to it."

    Did you know that in 1932, a sign on a public swimming pool that read "Members Only" really meant that only whites were permitted to enter except on certain days? That year, Sammy Lee, the twelve-year-old son of Korean immigrants who ran a restaurant in Highland Park, CA, stood outside the swimming pool fence one hot summer day and saw a boy diving high in the air and breaking the water with hardly a splash. Sammy decided that he wanted to learn how to do that. The following Wednesday, when people of color were allowed to use the pool, his African American friend Hart Crum showed him how to dive doing somersaults. With the summer Olympics being held in nearby Los Angeles that year, Sammy dreamed of becoming an Olympic champion diver.
    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."

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