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Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | This third novel in Paul Stewart’s cup-final-compelling Football Mad series sees the Dale Juniors face multiple pressures in the form of an excessively critical coach and an impending must-win game. Coach Carlton has taken an immediate dislike to goalkeeper Danny. “Sloppy and slow”, he snipes. “Maybe there isn’t room in the team for you anymore.” His confidence crushed, Danny’s game disintegrates, but when Mr Carlton’s aggression escalates, it falls to a new coach to turn around the tattered team as they face a thrilling penalty shoot-out. Alongside being an action-driven football story, Hat-Trick also tackles issues of bullying, confidence and the importance of team spirit. What’s more, published by Barrington Stoke, it’s also ultra-inclusive - the book was written, edited and printed with the needs of reluctant and dyslexic readers sitting centre stage.
Winner of the Telegraph Children's Sports Book of the Year Award, 2021 | Written by Ospreys, Gloucester, Perpignan, Wales and British & Irish Lions star, James Hook, with acclaimed author, David Brayley, Chasing a Rugby Dream: Kick-Off is the first in a fantastic new series of middle-grade novels that combine amazing characters and great rugby drama with insights and tips for young, aspiring players.
“Nut loved his sister and Leaf loved her brother, but everyone knew they were NOT like each other!” So the scene is set for Lu Fraser’s glorious rhyming ode to being yourself, a cheering, amusing tale that’s brilliantly brought to live by Mark McKinley’s simply stunning illustrations - they’re a veritable rainbow of energy and characterful detail. While adventurous Leaf loves to shoot her bow and swim icy lakes, Nut has no outdoor pursuits skills whatsoever. Rather, he prefers to bake, and harbours a secret passion for “slicing and dicing and mixing and whisking and really pink icing!” All of which means, come Viking Sports Day, Nut’s contribution is something of a disaster, until he hurls his cake in the Great Throwing Race and Chief Olaf recognises his culinary talents. Great fun, and there’s no arguing with its wise, warm-hearted message - “happiness comes when you just be yourself.”
The eye opening and fascinating true story of Lily Parr, Alice Woods and their teammates in the Dick Kerr Ladies Football team are the inspiration behind this engrossing story of football obsessed Polly Nabb, who would much rather kick a ball than stay at home and help her mother, which is the role society expects her to fulfil. As men, including her beloved brother, were sent to fight in the war, women and girls took their place in munitions factories. When Polly sees these women playing football in their breaks, she lies about her age to get a job there too and eventually she is recruited to the famous Sparks team, who were playing public matches to sell-out crowds, but also on the receiving end of public vilification and scorn. Indeed, despite drawing crowds of 50,000, women's football was to be outlawed by the Football Association in 1921, who deemed it 'unsuitable for females'. This little-known fact will astonish modern fans of the Lionesses England team, as will the authentic detail of the dangers of the munition factories and the wider struggle for female independence and respect. This is a very well-rounded picture of life on the Home Front during the First World War, full of fascinating detail and incident, populated by vivid and memorable characters and infused with a real passion for the game of football. A very entertaining and enjoyable read that adds useful depth to any historical study of the period and a salutary lesson for any sexist sports fans!
A cheerful fly gives a tiger – and young readers – lessons in yoga in this entertaining story. Mula the tiger is dozing, dreaming of being able to hop, tumble and stand on her head, when she’s woken by a buzzing fly. Fly is determined to show Mula just what she’s capable of, once she’s learned to focus on her breathing and stretching. With Fly as yoga instructor, Mula is soon moving like she does in her dreams and keen to learn even more! It makes for fun and inspiring reading, children will be able to copy Mula as she does the Downward Dog and Crescent Lunge. The illustrations are bold and eye-catching too, Mula and her jungle vivid and bursting with life.
Well we all love our bikes. Don’t we? This charming picture book tells the story of why this is. From the first push down on the pedal to the independence of making your own journey “I get to decide if I turn left or right. Not Dad. Just me.” The travails of the young (and old) cyclist - the ‘big huge hills’ where the bike gets lazy and the inevitable tumble after which ‘I’m never ever riding the stupid bike again’ - are endured and overcome. The greater joys of achievement, scenery and connection with the landscape will be familiar to everyone who has ever turned a pedal. “This is my place now all because of my bike”. Sam Usher’s illustrations capture the exhilaration and occasional panic of self-propelled speed and the rhythm of the writing echoes the rotation of the pedals and the whirring of the wheels and makes it perfect for reading aloud. ~ Sam Huby, Bikemonger
The premise of this fascinating book is two teenagers from opposite sides of the world who form a connection through odd circumstances. Natalie has just lost her Mum to cancer and struggles to find a calm place in the world, whilst her brother reacts by rebelling and joining a hate filled far right anti-refugee protest and action group. Sammy has had to leave his home in Eritrea on the chance of a new life in Europe – running from conscription into the army - which is a form of slavery in his home country. Both characters have huge issues to face. Sammy’s seem more obviously dangerous and overwhelming, though Natalie’s are equally as difficult - without the imminent danger. Told through a narrative poem using both voices to alternately express their fears, dilemmas and friendships this is a book you really can’t put down. You have to know if Sammy and Natalie do get to meet. As the plot carries you along you also want to know more about the plight of refugees and the horrific characters that exploit them in many many ways. Natalie’s decision to swim the channel to raise funds for the refugee charities creates a counterpoint in the narrative. The detail of her struggles and training plan seem an unlikely text for poetry - but it works! The author says “I wanted to make sense of what I was seeing, I wanted to do something that would help build empathy and understanding.” She has most emphatically succeeded in this aim. This is such a profound story of hope, grief, and strength - I do recommend it to all. Be aware you will weep, too.
As its excellent title and cover suggests, Isabel Roxas’s The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens is a quirky comic-style book for 7+ year-olds. Resplendent with the most gorgeous mid-century colour scheme, it boasts endearing oddball characters readers will root for and adore, and an off-the-wall story underpinned by a luminous message of teamwork. When Ruby (“resident genius, armchair philosopher, and aspiring naturalist”), Agnes (“amateur pigeon keeper, lover of potato chips, animals, and shiny objects”), and Roberta (“little boss, idea generator, pork bun aficionado, and list fanatic”) discover a passion for synchronised swimming, they form Team Pom. Fed-up of their team-loser status, and the insults (“what a bunch of nerds”), the trio set-up their own club, but their plans are sent awry when a giant squid appears in their pool. Reckoning that “now that we have a giant squid on our team, the possibilities are endless,” the girls sense hope for their synchronised swimming futures. But not if the conniving Diving Divas have anything to do with it. I loved the New York setting, the madcap plot, and the girls’ spirit of determination - what a wonderfully engaging, energetic book.
At once hard-hitting and heart-stirring, Black Brother, Black Brother confirms Jewell Parker Rhodes as an exceptional writer whose work resonates with authenticity, empathy, and powerful truths about race and equality. One of the few black boys at his prestigious school, 7th grader Donte has a hard time of it, to say the least. “I wish I were invisible…Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in whiteness. Most of the students at Middlefield Prep don’t look like me. They don’t like me either.” He’s singled out by teachers, and subjected to racist bullying by his classmates: “You dress thug”. “Your dreads are dreadful.” “Why can’t you be like your brother?” “Can your brother find you in the dark?” The brother in question is Trey, who presents as white and, as a result, occupies a very different place in the world. As Donte is arrested - for nothing - he experiences (yet again) that “Black is not invisible”. So, he resolves to get his own back on the student who got him in trouble, and the best way to do that is to beat the boy at his own game - fencing. Donte’s first-person narrative is pitch-perfect and incredibly powerful, and the brothers’ family life is beautifully portrayed too. Their dad is a computer architect whose family were “poor seafarers from Norway”. Their mom is a social justice lawyer whose family is “descended from captured Africans.” But despite the love and support of his brother and parents, Donte’s loneliness is powerfully palpable, especially when he’s suspended. This makes his determination to track down and learn from an African American Olympian fencer all the more moving, all the more inspiring. What an incredible tale of triumph and fortitude this is. Mention must also be made of the author’s afterword, in which she lays bare historic and cultural prejudices against darker skin, the falsehood of black/white categories, and her fascinating reasons for featuring fencing.
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | Shane Logan hits Peter’s school like a hurricane. He’s big, loud and doesn’t like being told what to do. He plays football like he does everything: with lots of energy and very little control. Then Peter suggests that Shane goes in goal, and he turns out to be the best goalie they’ve ever had. Now the problem is Shane’s aggressive stepdad; can Shane control his temper and keep Mick onside too? As with all Alan Gibbon’s stories, this feels completely authentic, as it celebrates the boys, their approach to life and their love of football. In between the chapters are facts about famous goal keepers and the goals the saved, or didn’t, and these real life stories add to the sense of football as an alternative family. Published by Barrington Stoke, this is dyslexia-friendly and accessible to the most reluctant reader.
Interest Age 8+ Reading Age 8 | Two true stories inspire this warm, positive, uplifting story: the real-life adventure of Pickles, the dog who found the World Cup, and the amazing achievements of Fara Williams, the women’s football superstar who was winning on the pitch even while she was homeless. Like Fara, Elsie is football mad, as is her dog Pickles, who narrates for us. In the story, the world cup trophy is stolen, which means Elsie will miss her chance to play in a half-time match at Wembley. That opportunity has been sustaining her through difficult times as she and her dad (and Pickles), also like Fara Williams, have lost their home and are living in a noisy, dingy hostel. Fortunately, Pickles is as good a detective as his famous namesake… Publisher Barrington Stoke specialise in books for dyslexic or reluctant readers, and there’s lots of page-turning action packed into a short extent. The book is big on emotions too though, making clear just how devastating it is to lose your home, while showing how love, family and hope can get you through just about anything. It also reminds us that football – playing, watching, being a fan – is life-enhancing. A winner! Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 13+
March 2021 Book of the Month | Co-written by Brendan Kiely and the always-exceptional Jason Reynolds, All American Boys is an immensely powerful, timely novel about police brutality against young Black men. Shining a stark light on white privilege and the racism implicit in not speaking out, it’s a punch-packing wake-up call for us all to stand up and plant ourselves on the right side of history. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong colour. It all goes wrong for Black sixteen-year-old Rashad when a cop jumps to the unfounded conclusion that he’s shoplifted a bag of chips. Rashad’s arrest is brutal and the cop, Paul, leaves him with internal bleeding and broken bones. There were witnesses though, among them Quinn, a rising basketball star from Rashad’s school who also happens to know Paul. In fact, Paul has been like a father to Quinn since his dad died on service in Afghanistan, which puts him in a tricky situation - speaking out against Paul would sever his friendship and support ties. But Quinn’s decision to keep quiet unravels when footage of the incident is picked up by the media, with everyone in town taking a side. As a powerful “Rashad is absent” school campaign gains momentum along with plans for a big protest march, Quinn realises that not speaking up is a form of racism, that as an “All-American” white boy he can walk away from anything. “Well, I was sick of it,” he decides. “I was sick of being a dick”. Aware that his dad had inspired Paul to become a cop to “make a difference in the world”, Quinn resolves to be like his dad too, but not in the sense of being loyal to his country and family, which is how people always frame his father’s heroism. Quinn means in the sense of standing up for what he believes in; being “someone who believed a better world was possible - someone who stood up for it.” Packed with plenty of moments that will make you melt and tear up (such as Rashad’s relationship with the hospital shop volunteer, and the bonds between him and his buddies and big brother), this is a smart, incisive, rousing read for our times.
Neal Shusterman’s incisive, inventive Game Changer raises the bar for speculative YA fiction as it confronts privilege, racism, sexism, homophobia and the devastating consequences of not speaking out head-on. It’s also an absolute page-turner, alive with relatable characters and authentic young adult voices. “There are choices we make, choices that are made for us, and things we ignore long enough until all choices have fallen away. I’ve been plenty guilty of ignoring stuff I don’t want to deal with.” This quote from protagonist Ash sums up the dominant sentiment underpinning this powerful novel. He’s a High Schooler with a diverse friendship group, which, at one time, he believed “checked my box of social responsibility. Like there was nothing more for me to do than have some brown at the table.” In Ash’s case that’s his Black best friend and team-mate Leo. A talented American footballer, Ash loves “the way it felt to smash through an offensive line”. Then, after one such smash, he finds himself knocked into a changed reality. At first, the shift in Ash’s universe is barely perceptible, but with each game, with each smash, he’s knocked into increasingly changed parallel worlds that provide jaw-dropping perspectives on our own. At one point he’s shifted into a shocking segregated reality in which all his teammates are white. Shusterman also shines a glaring light on coercively controlling relationships, homophobia and how “we vilify the difference in others” and “glorify the differences in ourselves.” Tension builds brilliantly as Ash works to return to his world with renewed insights, with the parallel world set-up serving as a smart allegory for us all to do better - to make choices that will make the world a fairer place. Through Ash readers are called to question their own actions - and inaction - such as when he admits that “Sometimes I would rationalize the intolerance of friends and look the other way. You know how a friend says a joke that maybe shouldn’t have been said? Rather than calling them out on it, you let it go. Pretend it doesn’t matter.” This gripping ground-breaker exposes the inexcusable upshots of looking the other way.
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