Olympic Reading

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Here are two great Olympics-themed books that our Dispatch colleague, Nancy Gilson, has found for us. Enjoy her write-ups and then go find them to read at your library or nearest bookstore!


Story of the Olympics in Ancient and Early Modern Times (Knopf, 144 pages, $19.99, age 10 and older) by Benson Bobrick

Children and adults who were glued to the television to watch the 2012 Summer Olympics might be interested in tales about the origin of the games as well as fascinating stories of the modern-era games.

In A Passion for Victory: The Story of the Olympics in Ancient and Early Modern Times, Benson Bobrick includes famous anecdotes - such as those about ancient athletes competing naked and about the 1936 victories of U.S. track star Jesse Owens in Berlin.

And, Bobrick has scoured for tales that should be fresh for youngsters:

  • In 648 B.C., the Greeks introduced pankration, an anything-goes martial-arts competition. Kicking, strangling and even beating an opponent to death were permitted. One of the greatest competitors was Polydamas, said to have killed a lion with his bare hands. Away from competition, he died a hero; when the roof began to sag in a cave during a party, he held it up long enough for others to escape before he was crushed.
  • Although women couldn't compete in the modern games until 1900 (tennis and croquet), ancient Greeks allowed them to enter teams of horses in the popular chariot races. Maidens could also compete in footraces in a festival of their own. But married women weren't permitted to compete in or watch the games (male athletes were naked, after all); if caught doing so, they could be put to death.
  • The first black South African Olympians entered the marathon race "for fun" in 1904. The Tswana tribesmen had been taken to St. Louis for the Boer War exhibit at the World's Fair. One finished ninth in the race; and the other, 12th. The man who finished first was disqualified after it became known that his manager had given him a lift in his car after the first 9 miles.
  • At the 1912 games, King Gustav V of Sweden presented track star Jim Thorpe with his medals, exclaiming, "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world." Thorpe replied, "Thanks, King."

Bobrick gives details of the ancient games and the sputtering attempts to revive the games beginning in the 17th century that finally led to the first real modern games in 1896 in Athens, Greece.

True to the subtitle, the book devotes only the three final pages to the competitions that followed the 1936 games.


Pop-up London (Candlewick, $19.99, 10 pages, ages 5 to 9) by Jennie Maizels and Richard Ferguson

If a trip to London is not in your family's future, a new pop-up book might give youngsters a 3-D mini-tour of England's capital city.

Pop-up London, written by Jennie Maizels (The Amazing Pop-up Geography Book) with paper engineering by Richard Ferguson, hits all the major tourist attractions as it travels along the River Thames. Although the book is missing an overarching introduction to London -- something to give young readers an idea of its size, location and history -- the pop-up constructions are plentiful and amazing.

The first section -- devoted to "museums, music and millionaires" -- features Royal Albert Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Harrods, Kew Gardens and more. The facades of five buildings pop up; turn the book around, and a view of each of the interiors is presented, along with facts and trivia. For example: A pair of Queen Victoria's underpants is displayed at her museum; Harrods hosts an annual dog fashion show; the queen owns all the swans on the Thames.

Subsequent pages cover major tourist attractions: Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge and more. The buildings are designed with masterly skill but are sometimes hard to identify; their labels are in fairly small type.

The book also features flaps with lots of trivia. Did you know that the queen can't enter the House of Commons, because she's not a commoner?

On the last page is a pop-up of Olympic Park, the scene of the 2012 games, through Aug. 12. The roof of the Aquatics Center is made from 118,400 square feet of recycled aluminum.

Such facts would be all the richer if the book gave an overview of one of the world's great cities.