Another emotionally compelling tale for young readers is Hyewon Yum’s Saturday Is Swimming Day, the story of a young girl’s anxiety about swimming lessons. Yum pays so much respect to the interior lives of children in this story that young readers and listeners will surely relate, even if they’ve never once taken a swimming lesson. It’s less about swimming than it is a triumphant tale of learning to face and overcome fears, something young children do on a regular basis as they learn to navigate this world.
Yum paces the story leisurely, introducing readers to what appears to be the girl’s first swimming lesson, one she tries to get out of by telling her mother her stomach hurts. There’s no doubt, mind you, that the girl’s fears have resulted in actual stomach pain, but her mother takes her to lessons with her teacher Mary anyway. While all the other children run, shout, play, and delight in the pool, our brave protagonist avoids the water as much as possible. She sits on the edge of the pool for the entire first lesson, even showering afterwards so that her hair will be “wet like everyone else’s.”
Bit by bit, step by step, and with great patience on behalf of her and her teacher, she learns to kick in the water, do bobs, and even float on her back. Her joy at having overcome her fear and anxiety is almost palpable. Yum fills these pages with detailed drawings of the other children, imbuing them with distinct personalities, and her palette is a sunny, summery one, filled with the blues of the pool and the bright colors of the children’s swimsuits. When the girl floats in the water on her back for the first time, it is sublime, knowing the girl’s victory as we do: “It was so quiet with my ears in the water, and everything looked different.”