Swimming with Sharks

Swimming with Sharks

by Betty Hicks, Adam McCauley

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Rita's times aren't good enough to swim with the Sharks—the team where all her friends compete. At first she's determined to improve, but is Rita ready to attempt complicated flip turns? Or is there another way for Rita to join the Sharks? Early readers will eagerly dive into this latest book in the GYM SHORTS series—sure to make a splash with new readers.
Swimming with Sharks is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429998246
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 09/02/2008
Series: Gym Shorts
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 64
Sales rank: 1,129,780
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 7 - 10 Years

About the Author

BETTY HICKS is the author of the GYM SHORTS series— action-filled sports stories that pack the energy of the gym into short novels for kids new to reading. Betty Hicks lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.

ADAM McCAULEY is the illustrator of several successful fiction series including the TIME WARP TRIO and the WAYSIDE SCHOOL books. He lives in San Francisco, California

Betty Hicks is the author of Basketball Bats and several sports novels for older readers, including Busted! and I Smell Like Ham. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina.


Adam McCauley is the illustrator of the successful middle-grade fiction series, Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka, as well as Louis Sachar’s Wayside School books. He lives in San Francisco, California.

Read an Excerpt

Swimming with Sharks

By Betty Hicks, Adam McCauley

Holtzbrinck Publishing

Copyright © 2008 Betty Hicks
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9824-6



The worst day of Rita's life was the day she became a dolphin.

A day like that should have been stamped with a warning label:



But, there had been no warning. None.

Rita had popped out of bed. She couldn't wait to put on her brand-new warm-up suit — the purple one with ruffles. She couldn't stop smiling. She was one hundred percent ready to try out for the swim team!

Even after Rita got to the pool, there was still no warning. It felt like a good day.

Rita did a perfect racing dive. She loved how the water felt as her body sliced through it. Bubbles streamed all over her, welcoming her to a smooth underwater world.

When she'd swum two laps, Miss York punched Rita's time on her stop watch.

"Rita," she said. "You're a Dolphin!"

"Woo hoo!" cheered Rita. She lifted her hands into the air and twirled like a dancer.

Dolphins, thought Rita, are very cool fish. They're sleek, smart, friendly, fast. And, soooo graceful. She glided over and took her place beside two other kids that Miss York had named Dolphins.

Rita's friends, Rocky, Jazz, and Henry stood across from her, dripping pool water.

Rita waited for Miss York to tell them that they were Dolphins, too.

Miss York pointed to Jazz. "You're a Shark."

A Shark? thought Rita. Jazz is a Shark? Not a Dolphin? She tilted her head and banged it with her hand. Was water stuck in her ear?

"Henry," announced Miss York. "You're a Shark, too."

Jazz and Henry hurried over to form a new group. Rita's mouth fell open. Her towel slid off her shoulders and landed in the water that had puddled at her feet.

"Rocky," said Miss York. She checked his name off on her clipboard. "Shark."

Rita's heart felt as if someone was squeezing it. It needed room to beat, but there wasn't any.

She picked up her drippy towel and pulled it tight around her shoulders.

Miss York assigned five more people. "Shark. Dolphin. Dolphin. Shark. Shark." Rita watched all her friends become Sharks. She didn't know a single kid who was a Dolphin. Not one. She elbowed the boy next to her. "How do I get to be a Shark?"

"Ow," said the boy. He rubbed his arm.

"Sorry," said Rita. She hadn't meant to hurt him. Sometimes her jabs got carried away.

Before he could answer, Miss York explained, "Sharks swam faster times, so they'll form one team. Dolphins," Miss York smiled at Rita's group, "will make up a second team. At swim meets, each team competes against teams that swim like they do."

Oh! Rita sighed with relief. She'd be at the same meets as her friends. They'd just swim different races.

Miss York passed out schedules.

Rita did a little wiggle dance with her hips. Dolphinshave style, she thought.

Rita looked at the schedule. Dolphin Meets, she read on one side — Thursdays. She turned it over. Shark Meets — Saturdays.

No way.

Dolphinsarestupid, thought Rita.



Most of the time, Rita moved like a dancer. But today, she stood like a statue.

She was a Dolphin. All her friends were Sharks.

Henry hurried over to her. Jazz and Rocky followed.

"This stinks!" exclaimed Henry. "You should be on the best team." He swept his arm in a circle. "With us!"

Jazz and Rocky nodded.

"Don't worry," said Rocky. "You'll be a Shark in no time."

"Ha!" said Rita.

Rocky was named after the boxer — the one in the movie who never quit.

"All you have to do," said Jazz, "is speed up your turns."

"Turns?" echoed Rita. Jazz knew stuff about everything, but turns? What was wrong with her turns?

"Flip turns," said Henry. "You have to learn how to do a flip turn."

"Yuck," said Rita. She hated flip turns. She just couldn't do them. She ended up twisted. Upside down with water up her nose. Every time.

Could she learn to do one? No. She turned and playfully pushed Henry into the pool.

"No pushing!" warned Miss York.

Rocky jumped in. Next, Jazz bombed the water with her best cannon ball.

"Flip turns stink!" yelled Rita.

Henry popped up. "Homework stinks!" he cried, then splashed Rocky.

"Rotten eggs stink!" exclaimed Jazz, wrinkling her nose.

"Henry's feet stink!" shouted Rocky.

Henry grabbed Rocky's head and pushed it under the water.

"No dunking!" shouted Miss York.

Rita splashed Henry.

Henry dove under the water and grabbed Rita's ankle. She laughed and kicked his wrist.

Rita heard Henry shout, "Ouch!" under water. With bubbles, it sounded like blouch!

Rita wished she were a Shark.



Rita's first Dolphin meet was on Thursday.

It was thirty-three degrees outside. And raining.

Yuck, thought Rita.

She wanted to feel warm and loose — so she could swim her fastest time, ever.

So fast, that Miss York would have to make her a Shark.

Rita twisted the ruffley hem on her new purple warm-up jacket.

Two girls on the Dolphin team sat on the edge of the pool. Their feet dangled in the water. One of them had a million freckles. They whispered. And giggled.

Should Rita make friends with them? Why, she thought? After today, she hoped she wouldn't be on this team.

Most days, Rita twirled. She glided. But today, she paced. Back and forth.

The wall clock said 4:15.

Miss York had entered her in the 100 freestyle. When did her race start?

Seven boys hit the water for the 100 butterfly. The pool exploded with splashes. Cheers filled the giant building — bouncing off the metal rafters high above her head. The air felt tingly. It smelled like that stuff they used to clean pools.

Rita slipped off her flip-flops. She loved the plastic daisy between the toes. She wiggled out of her warm-up suit. Her arms made wide circles in the air. She felt graceful, but strong. She could do this!

Rita knew that lots of swimmers used a grab start. Their fingers and toes curled over the edge of the starting block.

But she liked a track start. With one foot back. It felt better.

Should she try a grab start? Would it make her faster?

No. She shook her head.

What about her turn? Should she try a flip turn?

No. Her flip turns stank. Or was it stunk?

Stink. Stank. Stunk.

The clock said 4:25.

Her teammates huddled in a few small groups. Talking. Laughing.

Rita slid her flip-flops back on, then slumped onto a bench. Alone. She draped her towel over her shoulders.

She stretched her goggles around her head. Adjusted the elastic strap. Took them off again.

The clock said 4:35.

The inside of Rita's mouth felt drier than leftover toast. She wished she had a lemon drop. She wished her friends were here.

The clock said 4:36.

"Rita!" shouted Jazz.

Rita turned. She spotted Jazz, Henry, and Rocky! Goose had come, too. They all hurried over.

"Good luck!" cried Rocky and Henry.

"Break a leg," said Goose.

Jazz rolled her eyes. "That's what you say to an actor before his play starts. This," she swept her hands wide, "is a swim meet."

"Whatever." Goose shrugged. "It still means good luck." He smiled his famous goofball grin and shoved a grape Tootsie Pop at Rita. "Sorry it's not a lemon drop."

Rita loved lemon drops.

"Thanks!" said Rita.

"9 and 10 girls!" boomed a voice over the public address system. "100 freestyle!"

Rita froze. That's me.

"You'll win," said Rocky.

"Break a leg," said Jazz.



"9 and 10 girls!" repeated the loud speaker.

Rita stuffed Goose's Tootsie Pop in her pocket. She flung off her jacket and pitched her flip-flops under the bench. Hurrying to the starting block, she stuffed her frizzy hair under a swim cap.

Rita dried the starting block with her towel. She adjusted her goggles. Just like Miss York had showed her.

Then she took her stance and breathed deeply. Miss York gave her a thumbs up.

"Swimmers take your marks!"


The sound of the starter sent Rita's body diving through the air. She hit the water clean. Her feet began to kick. Her arms reached. One arm. Then the other. Pulling. Hard.

Rita felt great. She watched one hand slice into the water. Then the other. Bubbles streamed up each arm. She turned her head to breathe.

The swimmer in the next lane was ahead of her!

Pull harder, Rita told herself. Faster.

Should she try a flip turn?

No way.

She'd drown. Water would go up her nose.

When does a flip turn start? she asked herself, pulling forward with her right arm.

Rita was closing in on the turn.

Do it! Go for it!

Be a Shark!

Rita dropped one shoulder. She drove her head toward her knees. Fast. Flip. Her feet should land on the wall. Where was the wall?

Her feet touched nothing but water. No wall.

Water flooded her nose.

Rita came up gagging. Spitting.

She reached for the wall with her hands. Touched it. The inside of her nose burned hot and fizzy. She felt like she'd sucked root beer up her nose.

She should quit. She'd never catch up.

Rita kept swimming anyway. She finished the race.

Dead last. Slower than anyone.

"Don't worry," said Miss York. "Flip turns are hard. You'll get better."

Jazz and Goose faked their best smiles.

"She won't give up," said Rocky.

Henry nudged her arm and said, "Your dive was good." Then he shoved his hands in his pockets and studied his feet.

Rita stayed in the locker room until everyone had gone home. Then she went outside to wait for her dad to pick her up.

The air felt like liquid ice. It was freezing cold and raining.

She pulled her hood over her wet hair. It had frizzed out of control. Where was her dad? Why had she decided to swim in winter? Why wasn't there a law against flip turns?

Rita clenched her teeth. She flung the hood back off of her hair.

She hoped it got icicles in it. She hoped she got really sick.



When Rita got home from school the next day, the sun was out. It was tons warmer.

Rita's younger sister, Tia, pedaled her bike around and around Rockford Court in front of their house.

"Woo hoo! Look at you!" exclaimed Rita.

Tia waved and grinned.

Her training wheels were off. Rita's older sister, Carly, ran beside Tia. She held the back of Tia's bike steady so it wouldn't tip over.

Rita remembered learning to ride a bike. It had been scary. And hard. She had a scar on her ankle to prove it.

"Tia!" Carly cried. "Next time around, I'm letting go. Okay?"

"No!" screamed Tia. She jerked her feet off the pedals. The bike wobbled wildly. Carly tried to hold it.

Tia, Carly, and the bike crashed.

Tia sprawled on the pavement under her bike. One wheel spun out of control. "Look what you did!" she wailed.

"What I did!" shrieked Carly. Blood seeped through the elbow of Carly's shirt sleeve.

Rita rushed over. She untangled Tia from the bike.

"You okay?"

"I'm telling!" sobbed Tia. She ran for the house.

Carly shrugged. "That's what I get for helping."

"Are you okay?" Rita asked Carly.

"Fine," said Carly. She limped toward the house.

Rita sat down on the curb and stared at Tia's bike.

It lay twisted in an ugly heap.

Looking like one of Rita's flip turns.

Suddenly Rita felt like the bike. Crumpled.

All her friends were at the Shark meet. Doing flip turns at the speed of light.

Well. Not all her friends. Rita glanced at Goose's house. Goose lived on Rockford Court, across from Rita.

Jazz, Rocky, and Henry lived just around the corner, on Rockford Road. They had talked her into swimming.

Goose decided to play soccer instead. On a traveling team. He planned to become the greatest goalie on earth.

Lucky Goose.

Rita liked swimming. And diving. Especially diving. But she liked it outside, in the summer, with her friends.

Swimming and diving, she felt strong and graceful. But doing a flip turn, she felt awkward. Like someone else. Not Rita.

Should she quit the swim team?

Rita pulled a notebook out of her book bag. She'd make a list.

That's what Carly did when she couldn't decide on a boyfriend. She made a list of what was good about them. And what was bad. If the bad list was longer than the good — adios boyfriend.

Adios meant good-bye in Spanish.

Rita wrote, SWIMMING — GOOD THINGS, at the top of a page. She chewed on the end of her pen. She wrote

1. I like how the bubbles feel

2. I like to dive

3. It's fun to do with my friends

But she wasn't diving. And she wasn't swimming with her friends.

She wadded up the page and threw it on the ground.

She wrote SWIMMING — BAD THINGS on a new page.

1. Flip turns stink

2. Being clumsy stinks

3. Being wet in winter stinks

4. Swim team suits don't have ruffles

5. I'm slower than my friends

6. I don't feel like me

Six things. The good list only had three.

A smile crept across Rita's face.

Adios swimming.



"Rita!" exclaimed Rocky. He waved his arms over his head. "You can't quit!"

"Watch me," said Rita. She had one hand on her hip. The other hand held open her front door. She faced Henry, Rocky, and Jazz.

When Rita hadn't run out to the van for swim practice, her friends had all crowded onto Rita's front porch.

Jazz's dad waited, parked in Rita's driveway. With the motor running. It was his turn to drive carpool.

Rita had answered the door and announced that she wasn't coming to practice. Not today. Not ever.

"Are you crazy?" said Henry. "You'll have nothing to do all week!"

"We'd miss you," said Jazz. "So what if our meets aren't on the same day? We still practice together."

"You're not a quitter," added Rocky.

"Ha!" said Rita. "You're the one that's not a quitter."

Rita began to hum the theme song from Rocky, the movie that had given Rocky his nickname. For never quitting.

Rita jogged in place as she hummed. She pumped her fists in the air. She twirled. Spinning made her feel graceful again.

"See!" said Jazz. "You're tough."

"Tougher than shark's teeth," said Henry.

Rita sagged. "Funny you should mention sharks," she said.

Henry groaned and threw up his hands.

Jazz's dad turned the van motor off.

"Look," said Rita in a small, quiet voice. "I'm not a Shark." She was feeling less tough by the minute. "And after my first meet, I may not even be a Dolphin." Rita slumped against her front door. "I bet I'm about to be a Turtle. Is there a Turtle team?"

"Rita," said Jazz, ignoring the question. She held up a tiny piece of yellow plastic. "I brought you something."

Rita stared at the small, weird thing in Jazz's hand.

"It's a nose clip. It'll keep water out of your nose," said Jazz. "For flip turns."

Rita never wanted to see another flip turn.

"It's yellow," said Jazz. "It matches the daisies on your flip-flops."

Rita laughed. "Thanks, Jazz. Really. But I'm not swimming anymore."

"Don't give up," begged Rocky.

"Yeah. Don't be a wimp," blurted Henry.

Rita knew Henry wasn't being mean. Quitting sports just freaked him out. Henry had to play sports.

Rita stretched up, standing tall. "I'm not a wimp. I'm just quitting. When something isn't you, it's okay to quit."

"But, Rita —"

"You guys should go now. Okay? Please. You'll be late. And ... and ... I'm sorry," she whispered. Then she eased the front door closed. Gently ... but firmly.

Jazz's dad started the motor again.

Henry, Jazz, and Rocky walked slowly back to the waiting van.

Jazz dropped the nose clip. It sank into the grass.

Rita watched it all from behind a curtain.



After breakfast on Saturday, Rita called to her sister, "Tia! Let's go ride your bike."

"I'm never riding that dumb bike again," yelled Tia as she slammed the back door. "I'm going to Jenny's house."

"Don't be a —" Rita almost said wimp, but stopped herself.

Rita's house felt empty.

Rita's older sister, Carly, had left at 6:00 a.m. to go snow skiing with her church group. Mom and Dad were slumped over the dining room table, filling out tax forms.

Goose was who-knows-where — playing soccer. Jazz, Henry, and Rocky were at a Shark meet — swimming their little hearts out.

Rita trudged upstairs to her room and flopped onto her bed. She pulled her blanket up to her chin. What could she do?

Start her science project? Clean up her room?


Rita jerked the blanket over her face. She'd rather watch grass grow. Or paint dry.

She lowered the blanket and reached for the book she was reading — A Wrinkle in Time.

Meg, the girl in the book, was tough. Just like Rita.

Meg was stuck on a scary planet, searching for her father. To save him, she had to battle IT — a giant evil brain.

Rita read three chapters. Meg stood up to IT. She yelled at IT! Rita slammed the book shut.

How hard could it be to do a flip turn?

She rolled off the bed and marched over to her computer. When she clicked on her mouse, five twirling ballet dancers filled the screen.

Then she logged online. Quickly, she typed a stream of words: swimming flip turns how to.

Dozens of items showed up.


Excerpted from Swimming with Sharks by Betty Hicks, Adam McCauley. Copyright © 2008 Betty Hicks. Excerpted by permission of Holtzbrinck Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
9 - ZIG OR ZAG?,
Also by,
Copyright Page,

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Swimming with Sharks 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
jl624 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In this book, the girl Rita is struggling about whether she should stay with her friends on the Sharks team being the worst swimmer or she should go to the best Dolphins Team where she could be the best swimmer. Which is more important? Friends or glory? It is a good chapter book for easy readers. They can go through the book easily while learning about what is important in friendship. Recommended for children in grade 2-4.