Sport – book reviews

Sport – book reviews © Jason and Clare

Sport and books do mix, as this varied selection of fiction and non-fiction titles shows. Children’s book expert Anne Faundez reports back on some of the best sport-related reads.

Friendly Matches

friendly matches 

Title: Friendly Matches (PB)
Author: Allan Ahlberg
Illustrator: Fritz Wegner
Publisher: Puffin
Price: £4.99

Now a classic, this hugely enjoyable solo collection of 29 poems centres on the theme of football, written from an assortment of child-friendly perspectives.

Funny and sad, triumphant and mournful, the poems are diverse in both structure and mood. A pep talk by a manager to his young team rubs shoulders with a lullaby for a referee’s baby and a list poem giving instructions on ways to shoot the winning goal.

Also among the offerings are a variation of ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’, a pastiche on a Famous Five adventure and a choral poem on behalf of a victorious girls’ team. The poems are in rhyming forms and free verse, as couplets and quatrains, conversations and monologues. There’s even a sonnet, a ballad and a pastoral poem, too. Perfect for reading aloud and performing, the collection is hard to match for sheer vitality and breadth. Adding further enjoyment are Fritz Wegner’s small and expressive drawings that brilliantly capture the heart of the poems.

The What on Earth? Wallbook of Sport

The What on Earth   Wallbook of Sport

Title: The What on Earth? Wallbook of Sport (PB)
Author: Christopher Lloyd, Andy Forshaw and Brian Oliver
Publisher: What on Earth Publishing
Price: £17.50 each

Did you know that the swimming stroke of crawl was introduced to London by two Native American swimmers in 1844? Or that cricket and baseball evolved from ‘stoolball’, a game played by milkmaids? These are just some of the curious facts in this impressive, large-format concertina type book of sport and sporting records, which opens into a colourful frieze on one side and, on the other, newspaper pages. The frieze, set within a timeline from ancient times to the present, combines chunks of text and illustrations on many sporting disciplines from climbing, fishing and sailing to running, rowing, tennis and swimming. The newspaper articles are on the modern Olympics, from 1896 to the present, and follow the conventions of news reports,with features such as text set in columns, by-lines, headings, varying fonts, photos and drawings. The publication can be read as a book or used as a wallchart, in which case it needs to be made accessible from a short distance since the type size is quite small.

Ambrose Goes for Gold

Ambrose goes for gold

Title: Ambrose Goes for Gold (PB)
Author: Tor Freeman
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Price: £5.99 each

Ambrose has woken early and excited to a wonderful sunny morning. For the first time, he’s competing in the Great Insect Games. He’s been practising for ages and is ready to take part in every event. He tries his hand at long jump, but he can’t beat the grasshopper, he then has a go at skating but he can’t compete with the pond skater, he runs the 100cm race but the tiger beetle zooms past him. He sits down to rest, tired and dejected, nibbles at a twig – and discovers what he really excels at. It’s a gentle story beautifully told, with an uplifting moral that everyone is good at something. The text is brimming with action verbs, and the pictures of all sorts of smiling, jolly insects – in harmoniously coloured pastels on cream-coloured paper – are enchanting.

Bowl Like the Devil

Bowl Like the Devil

Title: Bowl Like the Devil (PB)
Author: Bob Cattell
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £5.99 each

Highly original, this is a tense and gripping story with a Faustian theme. Tyrone hasn’t yet made the school cricket team, unlike his best friend Christiano, although he dreams of becoming the fastest bowler in the world. Out practising one day, he notices a strange little man at the edge of the nets. His name is Old Nick. He offers Tyrone mysterious, strangely sinister advice, after which Tyrone manages to bowl a really fast ball. The more advice he gets, the better Tyrone plays, but who is Old Nick and what does he want in return? Soon Tyrone discovers that he’s prepared to sell his soul to reach his ambition even if that means losing the friendship of Christiano, and worse. In this page-turner of a book, it matters little if the reader is unfamiliar with the rules of cricket for the tightly woven plot and memorable characters ensure that the story takes over.

Go! Go! Chichico!

Go Go Chichico

Title: Go! Go! Chichico! (PB)
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Price: £5.99 each

Chichico is mad about football. A boy from the slums, he’s naturally gifted and plays barefoot on the beach. One day, he’s spotted by a talent scout and signed up for a trial run with the most prestigious football team in Brazil. His friends rally round – and Davi even finds a way, misguidedly, of finding him some boots to wear in the trial. The big day arrives, and Chichico plays his best. Can he make his mark, unused as he is to wearing boots? And, anyway, how did Davi manage to come by them? A tale of football and friendship, the story is warm and satisfying, tapping into young children’s dreams and aspirations.

Perfect for emergent readers, it has straightforward sentence constructions, lots of dialogue and illustrations on every page. The font is in a hand-written type style, set against buff-coloured paper to prevent glare, the line length is unjustified and the paragraphs have a line space between them – all features that also help the reluctant and dyslexic reader.

More in this category: « Author interview – Paul Mason

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