Tag Archives: football

The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan – Felice Arena

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Penguin Australia

29 March 2022

ISBN: 9781761044366

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $16.99

In a completely genius move, Felice Arena has combined his love of football (the AFL kind) and his skill with bringing lesser-known history to life. Set in Melbourne in the later years of WWII, this is the story of Maggie Flanagan who loves the game of football, and her team St Kilda, with all the passion of the most diehard fan. It is also the story of everyday life in Australia with the threat of war and invasion hanging like a pall, the constant worry about the menfolk away fighting, the rise of feminism and the history of women’s football.

Maggie practises her footy skills every day, using the precious football entrusted to her by her older brother, Patrick, who is away over the other side of the world, fighting for King and country. Football for girls is not only considered inappropriate – “unladylike” – but, indeed, risible by many people, mostly but not only males. So, when the new local priest suggests the children of Maggie’s school come up with some fund-raising ideas to support the troops, and Maggie proposes a girls’ football match, the shock and ridicule from many quarters soon squashes the idea.

If nothing else, Maggie is one determined young woman, and with Blessed Mary listening to her prayers, she knows she can succeed in this enterprise, despite the apparent obstacles. Over the course of just a couple of weeks, Maggie seems to uncover potential players for her match in the most surprising of places: the new ‘ice-woman’ delivering for the household ice-chests now that her husband has enlisted, or similarly the ‘milk-lady’, the usherette from the cinema, school nurse Nancy, Lizzie who lives with Miss Kelly of the corner shop, and even Sister Clare. Some of these have actually played football before, much to Maggie’s surprise. She also makes discoveries about her elderly neighbour, Grumpy Gaffney, and new girl, Elena, that not only give her much pause for thought but show her different ways of thinking.

Felice cleverly weaves into this snapshot of a significant time in our history, many of the prevailing attitudes and customs of the time – thankfully, most of them long gone the way of dinosaurs – as his narrative reveals how diverse people such as Maggie’s effeminate best friend, George, and Italian Elena were generally treated. The arrival of the ‘Yanks’ in Australia was divisive at the time and this too, is reflected in older sister Rita’s deviation from her steady boyfriend, seemingly dazzled by a tall good-looking American. Overall, there is much here that will provide some interesting discussions and comparisons for your young readers.

Like all of Felice’s stories, above all it is a cracking good yarn, with a plot that moves along at a brisk pace with a keen desire to find out what happens next. This, aside from anything else, will make this a fabulous tempter for your reluctant readers, particularly those who love their footy – whether boys or girls – and along the way they will absorb some valuable insights into a period of history that had great impact on the growth of our nation and our society.

Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 5 up to Year 7 – it will definitely be going up on my current Specky Magee anniversary display and will be part of my book talking with my kiddos over the coming weeks. Just in time for footy season – it’s a winner all round!

[Pre-orders available from the usual suppliers]

Specky Magee- Felice Arena, Gary Lyons

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Penguin Australia

1st March 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143777168
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

Seriously, these anniversaries always give me such a jolt – “Whaddya mean 20 years of Specky?” she says with disbelief as she opens the parcel. Yep, face it, you have been doing this job a long time! I’m the first to admit (much to the disgust of a couple of former gentleman friends) that I am not an AFL aficionado – hello!? born and bred in Sydney, right in the heart of Dragons territory and went to St George GHS – any surprise as to my football allegiance!?) but the Specky series is so much more than football.

Any youngster who is a keen follower or player loves this series – right from the start I can confirm – and it will be no different as a new generation pick them up. The footy aspect is integral, of course, and the story line is fortified by the technical ‘know-how’ inserted at relevant points. But the theme of Specky is so much more than this. Readers will relate with ease to Specky’s relationships with friends and family, at school or at home or on the footy field, and they will empathise with his dilemmas and concerns.

It is in this first Specky story that he discovers he is adopted, and as anyone could imagine, the whole unravelling of this (so far) family secret causes much disquiet all round but the sensitivity and understanding that underlies the text is so very affirmative and reassuring for any young reader.

Readers don’t need to know anything about the game (hey I’m testament to that point). If they are fans, they will love the footy details but even without that, they will thoroughly enjoy the well-paced plot, the interactions of family and friends and Specky’s very down-to-earth and utterly believable actions, speech, and responses to the situations in which he finds himself.

There is obviously a very valid reason why these books are still so popular. In fact, in my new library, while I’m dissing a lot of titles that, rightfully, should be in a primary library, I strongly defended Specky. If our Year 7s come in and haven’t yet discovered this legend, they should and I will be the first to recommend!

I highly recommend this series to you for your readers from around Year 4 upwards but please – bear in mind, if you are struggling to tempt some readers (boys or girls) in lower secondary who lack confidence and enthusiasm but are mad AFL players – give this the biggest plug ever!! I’m now trying to think what incentive I can add to a big promo of it in my new space!

Girls Change the Game – Gabrielle Gloury/Michael Hyde

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Ford St Publishing

April 2020

ISBN: 9781925804492

RRP: $14.99

Although the women’s version of Aussie Rules has been around since the early 20th century with regular competitions and state leagues being established over the years it wasn’t until 2017 that women’s AFL first became professionalised at a national level. Now with more 2 million viewers/followers, the game has been growing in leaps and bounds attracting much attention both nationally and worldwide.

Ok, I admit it. I grew up in Sydney, right in the middle of Dragons territory back in our club’s glory days. My friends and I played regular games of footy before school and at break times (I still have a scar on my knee from a tackle gone wrong one dewy morning!). So really, I didn’t even know AFL existed until I was an adult. Truthfully, I still don’t completely ‘get it’, however, I can very much appreciate the athleticism and skill of the women who play it. Certainly, it is very exciting to see now the focus on these sporting stars and the dedicated following they have garnered.

What better way then to encourage young girls to take up the game than a fun book with a twist! Kids love ‘choose your own ending’ books, that’s a given. Throw into that mix the excitement of a new club taking up their first serious challenge against a very competitive team and you’ve got a winner in all senses. The narrative has a quick pace and is an accessible read for even those students who are not strong readers and even those who are not die-hard footy fans will find the format appealing. With eight different possible endings, it’s a book to which kids can return over and over.

I give this book a high recommendation for kids from around Year 4 upwards, whether fans of the game or not, indeed whether they are fans of sport or not! A good fun read which they will find hugely enjoyable all round.

#In This Together Reconciliation Week 2020 & Rocky and Louie

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Rocky & Louie – Phil Walleystack, Raewyn Caisley and Dub Leffler

Penguin Australia

  • Published: 28 April 2020
  • ISBN: 9780143786528
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $24.99

I’ve saved this one for this week to time with Reconciliation Week 2020 as we take up this year’s theme, which as it turns out has proven apt in even more ways than originally intended. Despite many years of activism and advocacy there are still so many who fail to either realise or acknowledge the terrible wrongs done to our First Australian peoples. Regular readers of this blog will know how strongly this cause resonates with me given my children and grandchildren are proud Wiradjuri people.

Naturally then I never miss the opportunity to share cultural awareness with my students and others which is why reviewing books of Indigenous authors or themes is always so important to me.

Rocky and Louie takes a topic dear to the hearts of many young Australians, namely football, and weaves this into a narrative that underlines the sacred connection to country and culture for First Australians.

Rocky has a big dream and is determined to pursue it but when the time comes for him to leave country and go to the city, little brother Louie is fearful and anxious. Louie has learned all about football from his big brother but also about the importance of their culture, people and country and he’s worried that Rocky will lose his connection to all this and his family while he’s gone.

So he comes up with the idea of making Rocky a very special boomerang to remind him that he will always return to the place of his true belonging. The reader goes with Louie to find just the right branch and sits with him while Uncle Phil shows him how to shape it perfectly. And of course it makes the parting gift not only fitting but intensely meaningful as these two brothers demonstrate the closeness of their bond.

The text co-written by Raewyn Caisley, whose ability to transform her words about families into such seemingly simple but powerful layered meanings, and Phil Walleystack, Noongar man and internationally renowned singer-songwriter and storyteller, transcends a mere story of two footy-loving brothers and transforms this into a heartfelt testament to the strength, resilience and dignity of Aboriginal family life and culture.

The illustrations by Dub Leffler (so talented!) utterly capture the boys’ country, native animals, family and their smiling faces with such a divine skill that it will immediately transport readers to the setting.

Raewyn writes about this as her ‘most significant project’: ..’Rocky and Louie is about belonging to country and it is our gift, not only to Aboriginal children, but to all of Australia…….inside is a story that Phil, Dub and I believe has the power to change our nation.’

It goes without saying that I cannot recommend this highly enough and believe it is another essential addition to your collection. My copy will be shared with young Wiradjuri children whom my daughter is guiding in their cultural growth and education and I know it will be well received.

#In This Together

JT : The Making of a Total Legend – Jonathan Thurston, with James Phelps

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Harper Collins

August 2019

ISBN: 9781460758618

ISBN 10: 1460758617

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 16.99 AUD

I grew up slightly obsessed with rugby league. Born and bred in the heart of Dragons’ territory in the glory days of that team, my girlfriends and I played footy every day in the school playground (I still bear a cracking scar on my knee from an untimely slide across the asphalt!).  I begged my father to buy me my own football and was rather disappointed when it appeared – the rubbery kind not a leather one – which he found quite amusing. Clearly I had no clue how much a ‘real’ football cost!  My love of the game has somewhat diminished over time but I’m still a diehard Dragons supporter and even after thirty odd years in Queensland still proudly wear my ‘Blues’ jersey at Origin time.

Despite my history with the great game I cannot deny that if a player ever deserved the epithet of legend it would be Jonathan Thurston.  This shining star of league has not only proven his skill over and over again but is an exemplar of sportsmanship, teamwork and above that, a thoroughly decent, humble and compassionate human.

Young readers will be inspired by this version of his autobiography which begins with his childhood in Brisbane – too skinny, too sooky, too little – to be considered a likely professional player and traces his rise to the greatest heights the game can offer.  From his debut with the Canterbury Bulldogs (nothing to say there) to his brilliance in State of Origin, internationals and of course the Cowboys readers will gobble up every detail of every game.

Since his retirement from the game this giant of league has continued to use his influence positively with the Jonathan Thurston Academy with its commitment to ensuring success for young people in every field be it studies, employment or well-being.

In a culture where so-called sporting heroes often fall far short as role models, JT is a stand-out whose ‘total legend’ status goes without saying.

Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.

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JTCommunity

Footy Dreaming – Michael Hyde

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footy

Ford St Publishing

May 2015

186 p. RRP: $17.99

ISBN: 9781925000993

Like so many other youngsters around the country, Noah and Ben live for their footy. They are both completely focussed on being the best players they can be in their provincial footy teams but also share a common goal: to be selected for the Bushrangers and go on to play the big game at the MCG. They are both prepared to put in the hard yards to achieve this by being rigorous with their training and skilling and always giving their best effort. Despite their similarities, their cautious friendship is marred by division. Noah comes from a solid and loving Aboriginal family, grounded in their kinship and supportive of each other and their culture. Noah plays for the Mavericks: a successful team who work as a team under the guidance of an experienced and wise coach. Ben, on the other hand, has only his dad and sister and plays for the Kookaburras (because he is made to follow the family tradition of doing so). The Kookaburras are a sloppy outfit with prejudices and favouritism rife in its ranks. It has not ever had a good name in the game.

Michael Hyde achieves a wonderfully realistic and utterly believable cast of characters, each with their own voice as he explores this complex small town scenario. The boys are drawn together despite their team rivalry through not only their shared goal but also their growing understanding of being in the other’s shoes – or footy boots.

With the kind of dramas one would expect in everyday Australian life such as death of a relative, teenagers struggling to find their own identity, dealing with racism and prejudices, bullying, establishing relationships with mates or girls, Hyde presents us with a view of this sport, which often verges on a fervent religion, as well as life outside the big city that gives real insight into these young players and their hurdles and their community.

If you have not yet found the right book for a young person in your readership clientele, this might well be the one that flicks the magic switch.

Both male and female characters are strong and resonant providing appeal to both boys and girls. The plot is well constructed and the important issues of racism, prejudice and bullying are handled deftly and with sensitivity.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 up.

Deadly D & Justice Jones: Rising Star (Book 2) – David Hartley and Scott Prince

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Deadly D & Justice Jones: Rising Star – David Hartley and Scott Prince

Magabala Books

September 2014

ISBN: 9781922142504

Paperback 192 p.

Middle Primary

RRP $12.99

Deadly D and his friend Justice Jones are back again in another deadly adventure – this time not only with the footy flavour but an alien angle as well. David Hartley and Scott Prince have teamed up once more to provide Middle to Upper primary students, particularly boys but also all NRL lovers, another terrifically engaging read.

Deadly D has a curse, secret to everyone except his mum and his best bro, Justice. When he gets angry he turns into a huge hulking man with great physical strength and skills. That’s how he came to be playing for the Broncos alongside his heroes like Jonathan Thurston and Ben Barba.  Ordinarily just eleven year old Dylan, recently relocated to Brisbane with his mum, going to school and mucking around with his mate,  on weekends Dylan becomes Deadly D, a fast-rising top league player attracting much attention from fans and media. One particularly unsavoury newspaper reporter however seems to know more than others, and is continually harassing Deadly. Fortunately, he meets with a very satisfying end after some threatening moments.

Meanwhile, Deadly and Justice are less than enthused when their rather eccentric and footy mad teacher ,Mr B, sets a group task of making a billy cart and puts the two boys with new girl Taylor Niela. Both boys find her pretty but standoff-ish and snooty, though remarkably knowledgeable about physics and the scientific way to design the fastest billy cart ever.

They temporarily forget their chagrin over this however, and the whole class is ecstatic when they win the school attendance prize – a day trip to Dreamworld with the Queensland State of Origin team. The day starts off with a greeting at the Indigenous centre, followed by some huge fun in the waterpark – with the two authors making the most of opportunities to poke some gentle fun at some of the Origin heroes. Who would have thought that big Sam Thaiday would be afraid of heights and almost chicken out of going down the Wedgie waterslide, whimpering for his mum?  Sam’s resulting comical wedgie of his canary yellow speedos will give many readers a good chuckle.

In the midst of all the excitement, Deadly and Justice see stuck-up Taylor sneaking into the dingo enclosure to disappear underground mysteriously. When they follow her, they find out why she seems so different, how it connects with Deadly and his curse and how Deadly can help others in a really significant way, albeit at a cost to himself.

As with the first book, this is an easy to read and fun book which will engage many reluctant readers from around 9 years upwards. Hartley and Prince are onto a winning formula here and hopefully, we can expect to see more from them.