Doing it for the love of the game
EXTRA TIME By Morris Gleitzman ( Puffin, softcover, $ 16.99)
THERE is no denying 14- year- old Matt is an extraordinarily gifted soccer player. But injuries from the car crash that killed his older brothers Pete and Danny, mean he needs to take great care not to put his legs under too much stress.
Uncle Cliff’s wife has left him and now he has no job. This is a family that has seen enough sadness to last a lifetime.
But when Matt’s fancy footwork around a cattleyard makes it to the news, suddenly their world is turned upside down again, but in a very different way.
This fragile boy with metal pins in his legs is catapulted from a small Australian country town into the glamorous world of British soccer, with the chance to try out for one of the country’s English Premier League clubs.
With younger sister Bridie by his side as his manager, Matt gets to see, at close range, a world closed to all but a very select few.
But it isn’t long before Matt and Bridie realise the money and prestige mean nothing in a club that places so much pressure on its proteges that the most important thing has been lost: the beauty and pleasure of simply playing the game.
For kids who love soccer as much as they do, this is a devastating situation, and together, they find a way to bring kindness and joy back to the club.
Gleitzman really gets kids. He obviously cherishes their innate wisdom and powers of perception, and in this engaging and enjoyable story, he has the reader cheering this family on from the sidelines, whether they’re interested in “the beautiful game” or not.
SMOOCH AND ROSE By Samantha Wheeler ( UQP, softcover $ 14.95)
WHEN Rose and her gran save a baby koala whose mother has been killed by dogs, Rose envisages a life of contentment and safety among the trees on their strawberry farm for him, under her watchful eye. But the bank is demanding payments Gran can no longer make, and Uncle Malcolm is pressuring his mother to sell the farm to developers.
It’s not until the bulldozers start moving in that Rose realises she has to fight for the things that are most precious to her. A quiet girl who is bullied at school and doesn’t perform well academically, Rose is the last person anyone ( herself least of all) would expect to be able to make a difference in the world. But with support and courage, Rose pushes herself outside of her comfort zone to try to protect the ever- dwindling koala habitat.
Despite a few instances of misused words, this is a nicely written story that carries a strong message about the possibility of development occurring that is sympathetic to the environment, if only people are willing to listen, learn and be a little flexible.
More than that, though, it is an empowering and inspiring story that demonstrates very special things can be achieved by the most seemingly powerless of people.
THE WISHBIRD By Gabrielle Wang ( Puffin, softcover, $ 14.99)
ORIOLE is a human girl raised by Mellow, an ancient wishbird. She has spent her whole life in a beautiful, peaceful forest, knowing only gentleness, kindness and birdsong.
However, far, far away lies the Kingdom of Pafir, where the ruler is bound to the wishbird by a magical thread. But the king has turned his back on his people, cutting down all the trees, killing all the birds and banning all music.
The city of Soulless is under threat of invasion by a barbarian army and, because of all this, the thread that binds the king to the wishbird is gradually weakening. When it breaks, both will die. Only Oriole has the chance to save her beloved Mellow.
To do so, she needs to leave the tranquillity and safety of her forest home and make her way to Soulless, the walled city devoid of all joy and hope.
There she meets a young thief named Boy and together, they try to find a way to defeat the king’s power- hungry Lord Chancellor and save both the city and the wishbird.
This beautiful, lyrical story is a Chinese fairytale of sorts, filled with danger, love, loss, tragedy, hope, discovery and magic.
HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDAD By Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish ( Hachette, softcover, $ 14.99)
A WARM, funny, how- to book that celebrates the special bond between children and their grandparents. It’s also particularly good for children who don’t like their parents going out without them, as it carries the message that they will always come back but in the meantime, there’s plenty of fun to be had.
It also comes up with some great ideas for how adults can play with children and engage with them at their level to ensure they feel safe, happy and enjoy their time with their special older person.
Adorable illustrations add to the charm of this picture book that would make a great gift from a grandad, or even for one.