Have you got a sports-obsessed kid in your house? Maybe they’re mad into football or talk non-stop about GAA, or maybe they dream of achieving gymnastics greatness, swimming success or taekwondo triumph? High stakes, nail-biting moments, uncertain outcomes, but also joy, hope, friendship, character-building, those sound like the perfect ingredient for a terrific sporting event … or a great story. And yet, it’s rare enough to hear of a sports-heads who is also a bookworm. Why is that?
First off, kids (and grownups) who love sport tend to actually read a lot: they read magazines, articles, reports, etc. to keep up-to-date with their favourite game. Secondly, there is a good chance they haven’t come across books that either speak of their passion or that do so in a language they get excited about. But rejoice! Such books do exist!
Readers of 8 and up who love football and rugby would do well to check out Tom Palmer’s novels, as they read like match commentaries and are full of the ups and downs of sport and of growing-up (try Rugby Academy). For those who enjoy non-fiction better, Sportopedia (Mark Long and Adam Skinner, 7+) looks at over 60 different disciplines from American football to wrestling. Football School (Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton) is a brilliant compendium of general knowledge explained through football, while Rachel Ignotofksi’s Women in Sport focusses on terrific female athletes. For an Irish perspective, explore the new Great Irish Sports Stars series, which kicks off this autumn with biographies of Cora Staunton and Colm Gooch Cooper. Comics and graphic novels are another avenue to explore, as they add visual elements that might suit your reader better. Try Neil Cameron’s Tamsin and the Deep for a terrific surfing adventure (also with monsters) or Sam Bosma’s Fantasy Sports series.
Younger readers, also have plenty to choose from, starting with Phil Earle’s Unlucky Eleven (football), Alex T. Smith’s Claude: Going for Gold (general Olympics sportiness), Russel Ayto’s hilarious The Match (soccer again) or Jessica Souhami’s fabulous The Strongest Boy in the World (about sumo wrestling and meeting the strongest girl in the world, while we’re at it). Let’s Play! Poems About Sports and Games from Around the World (by Debjani Chatterjee, Brian D’Arcy and Shirin Adl) is a different take into the playing field and well worth your attention.
As for the youngest of readers, a favourite of Baby Book Club is The Very Noisy Football Match (Usborne Publishing) which comes with buttons to press to hear the crowd roaring, the ref whistling and the thwack of the free-kick. Most cartoon characters also feature in sporty spin offs, such as Maisy (Maisy Plays Football, by Lucy Cousins). If your family’s thing is Gaelic, you’re in for a treat with Joe Butler’s My First Book of GAA.
So, get your boots on, get your books down and get ready for kick off!
Written by Juliette Saumande (juliettesaumande.blogspot.ie), a children’s book writer whose latest title, My Little Album of Dublin, is illustrated by Tarsila Krüse and published by The O’Brien Press.
My First Book of GAA, by Joe Butler, The O’Brien Press, 18pp, €8.99, ISBN 9781788490634
You’re never too young to start with books, never too young to start with sports, never too young to start with sports books! Toddlers will love the clear, effective photos of everything you need for a game, from gloves to balls to sticks to points. This is one to share and to read together as you stand on the side of the pitch cheering for an older sibling or reminisce about your younger, sportier days … (Age 1–3)
Sportopedia, An Illustrated Introduction to the World of Sport, by Mark Long and Adam Skinner, Wide Eyed, 112pp, £14.99, ISBN 9781786030849
This great, big book is full of info on over 60 sports, including popular disciplines such as football, gymnastics and swimming, but also activities more rarely seen I children’s books (and most TV screens), like water polo, motocross, bowling or the intriguing kabaddi. Sportopedia looks at the history, the rules, the stars as well the equipment, gathering a huge amount of info in very digestible tidbits. The illustrations take centre stage: bright, colourful and inclusive, they’ll make you want to try shotput, baseball or, why not, sumo wrestling! (Non-fiction, Age 7+)
The Unlucky Eleven, by Phil Earle, illustrated by Steve May, Little Gems, Barrington Stoke, 96pp, £6.99, ISBN 9781781128503
Weird misses, disastrous results, bizarre diseases … The Saints are having such a bad year of it, that there has to be some sort of curse at work here. But Stanley’s not convinced and to show his teammates that they have it in them to turn things round he will have to be clever and tenacious, both on the field and in the changing rooms! With plenty of soccer action (and vocab) as well as a strong emphasis on friendship, teamwork and believing in yourself, there’s something for everyone in this fun, highly illustrated tale. (Age 5–8)
Rugby Academy, by Tom Palmer, Barrington Stoke, 296pp, £7.99, ISBN 9781781128664
Woodie is all about soccer and has even a promising future in the sport, but everything changes when his RAF pilot dad enrols him in a rugby-obsessed boarding school just before being drafted in for combat in the fictional Central Asian Republic. We follow Woodie as he explores a new environment, makes new friends and discovers a new passion. Palmer’s novel reads like a match commentary, it’s full of action and there is no down time, but it’s also full of heart and high stakes. Brilliant! (Age 9-12)
For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland, the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life.