In the mid 90s I used to scan the local library shelves for children’s books even slightly linked to football in an attempt to find something to satisfy my two football mad sons. I needed something that wasn’t too overwhelming in length or complexity, that featured the game they loved but in a book that felt like a ‘real story’ and would be enjoyable to read. Sadly Barrington Stoke did not exist at that time or they could have solved the problem for me with these two books published this month.
All to Play For by Eve Ainsworth illustrated by Kirsti Beautiman
All to Play For tackles themes of poverty and grief threaded through a story of one boy’s love of football and his desire to achieve his ambition somehow. A positive and rewarding read that is just right for footie fans and may convert others to the beautiful game.
Lewis loves to play football. He needs to have a ball at his feet, to run with it, to practise getting his shots right. The problem is that he has to practise in secret, in his “happy place” the strip of grass behind the block of flats where he lives with his mum and he uses an old football given to him by his friend. Lewis’s mum doesn’t want him to play football partly because it is expensive to buy the kit, pay for the training and get to the games but maybe more importantly because she blames football for the death of Lewis’s dad. Despite her opposition Lewis can’t stop, his love for the game makes it impossible for him to give up his hopes and ambitions despite his close and loving relationship with his mum. When Ash, a local football coach, notices Lewis practising he sees the young boy’s potential and Lewis can’t keep his secret from Mum any longer.
Eve Ainsworth has thoughtfully centred this story on the inequalities that exist in society and sensitively brought in the subject of family loss and grief too. Despite these emotionally charged topics this is an exciting and enjoyable read. The drama of a closely fought football match between school boys is conveyed with all the importance of a premier league top of the table clash! The friction between those of a competitive nature and the importance of positive male role models are also incorporated without this feeling like an ‘issues book’. I would highly recommend this for readers aged 8+.
Football Mad: Teamwork! by Paul Stewart illustrated by Michael Broad
The final instalment of this action packed series sees Dale Juniors football team captain Scott face a dilemma when an unexpected event forces him into a position where his loyalties are put to the test and the expression ‘a good team player’ takes on a special meaning. Full of football action this will appeal to readers who prefer their reading to be fast paced and relatable.
Friendships are put to the test in this story. Scott and his team are already bracing themselves for a challenge as the charity match against their rivals, the school’s girls football team, approaches. Then on the day itself an accident results in the girls being a player short and it is decided that one of the boys will play for the opposition. Scott is horrified when his name is pulled out of the hat and he has to play against his friends.
This story raises interesting questions about loyalty and teamwork and children will be intrigued to see how Scott handles his tricky situation. The fact that the rival team is made up of girls adds another layer to the plot and I think this book could well prompt thought and debate. The exciting match with its fluctuating fortunes of play will keep young football fans completely enthralled. Although this is the final book in a series I think this story works perfectly well as a stand alone but I imagine children will want to read all the adventures of Scott and his friends if they have not already done so.
All to Play For and Football Mad: Teamwork! both have a dyslexia-friendly layout, typeface and paperstock so that even more readers can enjoy them and they have been edited to a reading age of 8.
I should like to thank Emma O’Donovan and Barrington Stoke for my review copies. Both books were published on 4th April and can be purchased on the Barrington Stoke website.