One thing is certain, there is no lack of material for picture books about sports and the Olympics. The power of physical activity, the spirit of competition, and the thrill of achievement resonate throughout these books. Plus, this list has titles from around the world, a diversity of sports, and includes some stories about people behind-the-scenes.
Whether you have a child actively engaged in learning a sport or you’re interested in exposing them to the range of options available, there’s something here to enjoy. If I’m being completely honest, these picture books about sports have also served to introduce my girls to some of the rules and dynamics of the different activities (mostly so they would stop calling football, basketball or calling soccer, baseball etc.).
This collection includes stories that are based on real events, but a few are fun works of fiction. Also, a couple of surprising stories make the cut (one of my favorites is about a bicycling grandpa!).
Picture Books About Sports
Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon
by Annette Bay Pimentel
It starts in high school. Bobbi Gibb can’t participate on the track team because she’s a girl. Nevertheless, she finds ways to run all the time and any time. She faces resistance again when she wants to participate in the Boston Marathon and is told “no” because women aren’t capable of running that far. Determined, Bobbi GIbb starts training and planning. Her clever plan wins respect and a spot for women in the race. An inspirational story with bright illustrations.
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story
by Audrey Vernick
Meet Effa Manley: the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. From an early age she loved the game of baseball. Her career would take her to a variety of roles in baseball and she remained passionate about the sport throughout. Additionally, she was committed to the players and strongly advocated for their success and recognition. A story about a remarkable woman with a lasting legacy in baseball.
Sisters: Venus & Serena Williams
by Jeanette Winter
Author Jeanette Winter captures the story of these two iconic sisters from their upbringing in Compton, California to their success on the world stage. Winters succeeds in showing the women as multi-faceted individuals who did far more than play tennis. She alludes to the barriers they broke down, the additional professional paths that they pursued, and the commitment they maintained through it all to each other. Great book!
Nothing But Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson
by Sue Stauffacher
Before there were the Williams’ sisters, there was Althea Gibson. Dismissed as nothing but trouble by nearly everyone around her, one person sees potential and begins to develop Gibson’s tennis skills. She would go on to be the first African-American woman to compete in and win the Wimbledon Cup. Cheer Althea through the pages and enjoy the vivid illustrations and engaging text!
The William Hoy Story
by Nancy Churnin
Ever wonder how the signals that umpires use in baseball were developed? This is the story for you. William Hoy loved baseball, and he was determined not to let his deafness stand in the way. His solution for not hearing the umpires calls was to suggest hand signals – turns out that the fans in the stands appreciated the visuals, too. Now everyone could see what was going on if they couldn’t hear or couldn’t see what was happening. A story about the love of baseball, finding a place to play, and changing a situation for the better.
by David M. Schwartz
In 1951, the Tour of Sweden told Gustaf Håkansson that he was too old to join the bicycle race. Undeterred, he participated unofficially. And 1,000 miles later, he won! No one though the 66-year-old man would make it, but as he persevered everyone got on board with his effort. A fantastic story that will have everyone cheering at the end!
by Mina Javaherbin
Author Mina Javaherbin has written a book celebrating the soccer stars of Brazil specifically, and the world generally, who have risen above their gritty start in poverty. Paulo Marcelo Feliciano works hard to contribute to his family’s finances, plays hard on his soccer team at the end of the work day, and advocates for his sister to play when the opportunity arises. Bold and team-oriented, Paulo exemplifies the best of what soccer brings out in its fierce competitors the world over.
Pelé King of Soccer
by Monica Brown
Accompanied by illustrations that swirl and electrify, Pelé King of Soccer tells the story and accomplishments of an influential, unforgettable, and incredibly talented Pelé. Readers start with a young boy playing in less than ideal circumstances just for the love of the game. The same boy grows to a young man who brings victory to Brazil in the World Cup (not just once, but three times). The book ends with Pelé as an experienced competitor sending the ball into the goal for the 1,000 time. Great storytelling and brilliant illustrations.
Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream
by Deloris Jordan
Michael Jordan almost gave up on his basketball dreams. As a child he was convinced that he would never grow tall enough to play. His parents re-focused his efforts by showing him that champions aren’t made based on physical appearance. Rather, hard work, perseverance, and patience were the determining factors for a champion. A good story for reminding children that achieving their dreams doesn’t come “just because…,” it takes a lot of focus and dedication. This inspirational book is co-written by Jordan’s mother and sister.
The Kid from Diamond Street
by Edith Houghton
At ten-years-old Edith Houghton tried out for the women’s professional baseball team. Pretty soon her skill and talents were attracting fans to the stands as reporters shared her story with the world. Navigating a host of challenges unique to being a child in a woman’s league as well as familiar challenges of team dynamics and managing expectations, Houghton found a way to play the game she loved. A great picture book for baseball fans!
Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy
Ever wonder how basketball came about? In this picture book, author John Coy introduces an exasperated gym teacher as the source of the now popular sport. One particular gym class was so uncontrollable that two previous teachers had quit. When James Naismith took the helm, he didn’t have it easy. He acted quickly to develop a new game that was fast-paced and engaging. Would it be enough to channel the class of energetic youth in a more productive direction before someone gets hurt?
The Soccer Fence: A Story of Friendship, Hope and Apartheid in South Africa by Phil Bildner
A compelling work of historical fiction, author Phil Bildner tells the story of Hector who is living in South Africa as apartheid is crumbling. Hector watches the white kids play on a field encircled by a fence. Then, the Bafana Bafana national team wins the African Cup of Nations and soccer fans once separated by a fence, join together to support their national team. A good story about the powerful role sports can play in bringing people together.
She’s Got This
by Laurie Hernandez
This book is written by Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez. It is not specifically about the Olympics. Rather, this is a great read for applying growth mindset learning to athletic activities. When Zoe falls off the beam she decides to quit. Her family help her to see that falling is just part of practicing – they celebrate by getting ice cream – and they encourage her to get back on the balance beam.
Picture Books About Olympics
by Kathleen Krull
Wow. This story is epic. Wilma Rudolph became the first woman of the United States to win three gold medals in one Olympics in the Track & Field competitions. That’s epic enough, but the first part of her story is such an inspiration. From birth Wilma was susceptible to sickness, and then polio twisted her left leg. After a period of feeling sorry for her circumstances she resolved to change them. She did her leg exercises, she studied others playing basketball when she wasn’t allowed, and one day she bravely took her brace off and walked into church. From then on she was a tenacious and resolute competitor. An amazing story and a role model for all athletes.
Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still
by Karlin Gray
Follow the twirling, climbing, jumping, moving Nadia Comaneci has she grows from falling off the beam three times at her first National Junior Championships competition in gymnastics to achieving the first perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastic competition – and continuing to earn 7 perfect tens – in the 1976 Olympics. Another great story for encouraging growth mindset in readers, and a story that many wiggly, fidgety readers will also appreciate.
Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper
by Ann Malaspina
At a time when young girls were expected to sit still and mind their manners, Alice Coachman was running, sprinting, jumping, and being reprimanded. There wasn’t a place for young African-American girls to train in track and field so she made her own set-up. A coach notices her potential and with the support of her family she begins training to compete. In 1948 she reaches her goal of competing in the Olympics, and she goes on to be the first African-American woman to win gold! An inspiring story of family, hard work, and determination.
How to Train with a T. Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals
by Michael Phelps with Alan Abrahamson
A look into the daily life and rhythms of Swimming Olympian Michael Phelps leads to some unusual comparisons. Phelps napped for three hours every day for a total of 6, 552 hours in six years. Or, as the book describes it: “That’s like napping away three summer vacations in a row!” Or how about: “Every week in practice I swam 60,000 meters…That’s like swimming the full length of the Great Wall of China three times!” This is a fantastic look to show young readers the level of commitment and practice that goes into achieving epic goals. The illustrations are bright and amusing. Another fantastic book!
The Wildest Race Ever: The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon
by Meghan McCarthy
Oh. My. Goodness. What an eclectic group of runners and what an unusual set of circumstances for the 1904 Olympic Marathon. Author Meghan McCarthy selects 11 of the runners and follows their effort to secure victory. After exiting the stadium runners begin falling out of the competition left and right. Cars drive by and blow dust in the runners’ faces. One runner is given strychnine as part of his drink during the route. Another runner kept stopping to practice his English with stands on the roadside. This was a marathon for the storybooks. It is an entertaining story! It will be best appreciated by older elementary students as the names and some of the references will just be beyond a younger child’s head, but everyone can enjoy the illustrations.
Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path
by Joseph Bruchac
Follow the story of legendary Native American athlete Jim Thorpe from birth to college competition. Read the rest of his involvement in a wide range of athletic forms with the Author’s Note at the end. Bruchac connects Thorpe’s family, Indian heritage, and troubled education with Thorpe’s eventual success in athletics. The somber tones of the first part of the book slowly ease as Thorpe begins to find his way. It is a story of Thorpe overcoming physical, emotional, and mental obstacles. A powerful, page-turner that leads readers to cheer for Thorpe’s success.
G is for Gold Medal
by Brad Herzog
I typically shy away from alphabet books for elementary-ages, but this book has detailed information at each letter about an aspect of the Olympics. Go A to Z, Athens to Zeus, and everywhere in between. Learn about sports that are no longer in the competition, the para-Olympics, and the meaning of the five rings on the Olympic flag. A great resource and quick overview (summer and winter sports are included). As far as picture books about sports goes, this one is the most comprehensive.
Other Recommended Kid Lit Lists about Sports
20 picture books about sports is hardly an exhaustive list in this category. So many books are out there about a range of athletic-related topics. I’ve pulled a few lists from other bloggers that might be of interest to you – particularly if you’re looking for a particular sport or theme!
Need More Reading Ideas?
Okay, maybe you have kids who aren’t that interested in sports. Maybe you don’t want to overload them with *just* athletic stories. Whatever the case, if you’re looking for some more picture book ideas beyond picture books about sports, here are a few fun groups to look through.
Picture Books About Shoes – This has been the most bizarre list to put together. To be honest, it was just fun to do. I didn’t have any curricular connections or big ideas. What I did enjoy about reading this assortment of books was the surprising range of topics and styles that emerged. Some books were sweet and some were funny. Some books had a more traditional folklore tone and others were modern in storyline. Have fun with these – your family’s next favorite might be in here!
Picture Book Biographies of Amazing Women – You’ll notice some overlap between this list of biographies and these picture books about sports. But you’ll also have plenty of other awe-inspiring women to discover with this list of dozens of remarkable females. Artists, activists, athletes, scientists, and so many other innovative and creative women are in these books!
Picture Books About Gardening – If you have a green-thumb, nature-loving little one, then this list is for you. Some sweet, some instructive, and some downright funny titles and stories are on this list. Gardening in all of its power and glory is expressed in these great read-aloud books. Sit down in a garden and read a couple.
Wherever your reading takes you, enjoy! Raising readers is an ongoing process, but it’s more enjoyable with a variety of good books!