With many sporting events resuming around the world and many sports clubs finally reopening close to home, young fanatics can don their kits once more (as players or supporters or both) and savour the intense ups and downs that come with playing or watching their favourite game. For any halftime downtime, here is a roundup of sports books that will deepen young readers’ knowledge and understanding of their chosen discipline, inspire them with real-life stories of resilience and triumph, and help them deal with the emotional roller-coaster that comes with being passionate about anything. Many of the titles we have picked in our selection this month are inclusive and show that no-one should be excluded from the joys of sport, whatever their gender, ethnicity, abilities or background.
Tiny readers who want to explore all things sporty are in for multiple treats with Lucy Cousin’s iconic character Maisy. There is nothing the curious, plucky mouse can’t do, from playing football to driving a race car. Her small adventures are brilliant as first-experience books where very young kids get to learn how to get ready for a swimming lesson (Maisy Goes Swimming, age 1+, and Maisy Learns to Swim, age 2+) or what happens at sports day (Maisy’s Sports Day, age 2+). These can be a great help in managing anxiety about new places and events, and expectations about winning or losing.
Sport is also a great provider of inspirational stories and role models. The excellent Little People, Big Dreams series is a great place to look for such figures, with titles spanning eras, disciplines and continents. Whether your young reader is into athletics, tennis, boxing or football, they are bound to marvel at the real-life achievements of Megan Rapinoe, Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph, Muhamad Ali or Evonne Goolagong, to name but a few (ages 4–8). Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls is another empowering read about a Ghanaian cyclist and his quest to champion all sportspeople, regardless of their abilities.
Older readers will love leafing through Amazing Athletes: 40 Inspiring Icons (Jean-Michel Billioud and Gonoh, age 7–10) or delving into well-rounded books such as Sportsopedia (Mark Long and Adam Skinner, 7+), How to Be a Footballer and Other Sports Jobs (Rachel Yankey and Sol Linero, age 6–9), or, for an Olympic twist, On Your Marks, Get Set, Gold! (Scott Allen and Antoine Corbineau, age 8–12). Meanwhile, football experts are sure to learn a thing or two hundred in the wide-ranging and fun Unbelievable Football (Matt Oldfield and Ollie Mann, age 8–12).
As many of these books will remind young readers, not everyone will become a world-famous champion, but everyone can try and everyone should feel free to enjoy the delights of sport, regardless of quantifiable achievements. In the words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin (the ‘father of the modern Olympic games’), ‘the most important thing is not to win but to take part.’
Written by Juliette Saumande (@juliettesaumande), a children’s book writer and professional bookworm whose latest title, My Little Album of Dublin (illustrated by Tarsila Krüse and published by The O’Brien Press) features a game of camogie, even though Juliette is more into fencing and tap dancing herself.
Maisy’s Sports Day by Lucy Cousins, Walker Books, 32pp, ISBN 9781406371055
The unstoppable Maisy and her friends are having a sports day: relay races, tug of war, egg and spoon race and lots more fun await the gang … once they’ve done their stretches! Cousins does a great job of presenting the different activities in a way that is both fun and reassuring for anyone who has never taken part before. The illustrations are action-packed and bound to spill into real life with your little one demanding an impromptu three-legged race or game of quoits. The message here focuses firmly on all the fun that sports can bring, but also acknowledges how hard it can be not to win. In the end, everyone goes home with a medal. (Ages 2–4)
Little People, Big Dreams: Evonne Goolagong by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara and Lisa Koesterke, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 32pp, ISBN 9780711245853
A brilliant account of the life of Evonne Goolagong, the young Indigenous Australian tennis prodigy who triumphed over discrimination and poverty through sheer determination, hard work and a sunny disposition, this book is a real slice of sunshine. The hardships of Evonne’s childhood are dealt with sensitively and are well balanced by the huge warmth coming from all the support she encounters along the way, starting with the love and pride of her own family. This inspiring biography almost reads like a fairytale and will have young readers reaching for their racquets. Game, set and match, Evonne! (Non-fiction, Ages 4–8)
How to be a Footballer and Other Sports Jobs by Rachel Yankey and Sol Linero, Nosy Crow, 32pp, ISBN 9781788006965
Part of a brilliant series that sets fresh eyes on professions many kids find fascinating, How to be a Footballer starts right at the beginning, looking at the many forms football can take (a fun game to play with friends, a professional sport, Paralympic football, football traditions in different countries and throughout history …). It then moves on to all the jobs involved in the sport, from the players to the coaches, the physios, the agents, the journalists, the sports lawyers, the outreach officers or even the team chefs! The strength of this book is its wide angle, as it doesn’t shut anyone off: the football fanatics pictured are of all genders, all ethnicities and all abilities. Anyone can enjoy the game and there is so much more to football than the spotlight-grabbing superstars! (Non-fiction, Ages 6–9)
On Your Marks, Get Set, Gold! A Funny and Fact-Filled Guide to Every Olympic Sport, by Scott Allen and Antoine Corbineau, Nosy Crow, 96pp, ISBN 9781788007276
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics finally around the corner, this is a timely addition to any sports mad reader’s shelves. This book looks back on the long history of the Games before proceeding to introduce a wealth of current Paralympic and Olympic disciplines. For each are listed quick historical info, an overview of the main rules, some handy vocab to sound like a pro, as well as tips on basic training, skills needed and a chart showing the reader what their ‘chances of becoming a champion’ are, based on how popular a sport is worldwide (football: slim; artistic swimming: good; weightlifting: great). Here too, diversity and inclusion are strong features, and the sneak peek at what the future might bring (Olympic chess or karting, anyone?) sounds like a promise to level the playing field even further. On your marks … (Non-fiction, Ages 8–12)
For more book reviews and recommendations for young readers, visit www.childrensbooksireland.ie