The second in this series written by Wales and British & Irish Lions star, James Hook, with author, David Brayley, Chasing a Rugby Dream: Impact is an exciting and enjoyable story. The sequel to the award wining Kick Off this story, in addition to its obvious appeal to rugby lovers, is a positive and thoughtful exploration of friendship, family and overcoming difficulties and contains some valuable life lessons. It even managed to ‘convert’ this confirmed footie fan!
It is the long summer holiday and Jimmy Joseph is looking forward to attending his first ever rugby training camp at the Eagles Academy which he hopes is going to be the first step on his journey to becoming a professional rugby player. However the camp does not go as well as he hoped and imagined it would largely due to his old adversary, Mr Kane, and a heavy tackle in training. This results in a fear of tackling that affects his love of the game and as he returns to school for a new term friendship issues add to Jimmy’s difficulties.
Sport themed fiction can be a great opening to reading for pleasure for young readers but there are relatively few rugby related stories for the nine to twelve age group. James Hook and David Brayley have stepped in to this gap with considerable success. Kick Off, the first in the series won the Telegraph Children’s Sports Book of the Year Award, 2021 and this follow up will delight many ardent rugby fans. However I think it has a much wider appeal.
Jimmy is a sympathetic and engaging protagonist. Although an unlikely hero in some ways, small in stature, skinny, wearing glasses and with asthma Jimmy is also a boy with a big heart, loyal to his friends and siblings, maintaining good relationships with his parents despite their divorce and close to his grandparents. I learned a lot about the sport of rugby and this would be simply perfect for rugby enthusiasts. However this is a story full of wise guidance and thoughtful examples of problems children may encounter. Oscar, the new boy who arrives in Jimmy’s class, is autistic and this is incorporated in to the story with understanding. The authors use this opportunity to effectively explain how autism affects Oscar’s behaviour and the developing bond between him and Jimmy is lovely to read. Others among Jimmy’s class are not as understanding and the subsequent friendship issues are dealt with sensibly and with a positive outcome. This is a reassuring message for young readers.
Rugby is of course key to the plot and the emphasis on the importance of regular practice is a welcome point providing children with the balance to the perception that some have of success. Jimmy has to work hard for what he achieves and this is an extremely valuable lesson. This together with the importance of a positive attitude and commitment are attributes that are important in all sports plus in life itself so this message is valid for all readers. Kitty, another star rugby player, is a brilliant character, being a positive female role model and a good friend to Jimmy. There are some strong and likeable adult characters providing role models too and I really enjoyed the relationship between Jimmy and his lovely grandad.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable read. There is excitement, humour, sporting tips, kindness and wisdom conveyed in short chapters keeping the reader’s attention throughout. The epilogue sets things up perfectly for a third book too. This is a series I can see becoming immensely popular and not only with rugby fans.
Chasing a Rugby Dream: Impact was published on 14th October by Polaris Publishing and I would like to thank David Brayley and the publishers for providing my review copy. If readers want to emulate Jimmy and his friends and improve their game they will probably enjoy James Hook’s YouTube channel: Chasing a Rugby Dream with James Hook.
If you are looking for other children’s books with a sporting theme I can also recommend the Roy of the Rovers series by Tom Palmer the most recent of which is Sudden Death.