________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 2004


Just for Kicks. (Sports Stories; 69).

Robert Rayner.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2004.
118 pp, pbk. & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55028-824-5 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55028-825-3 (cl.).

Subject Headings:
Sportsmanship - Juvenile fiction.
Competition (Psychology) - Juvenile fiction.
Soccer stories.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Deborah Mervold.

*** /4


As soon as we clattered into Portage Street, our cleats rattling on the sidewalk and echoing from the houses, I saw the stranger. He was near the end of the street, and he was watching us. The others didn't notice him. They were too busy playing street soccer.

Shay kicked the ball to Brian, who slammed it against a garden fence. It bounced to Julie, who trapped it neatly and rolled it to me. I was behind everybody and panting, as usual. Brian crouched in the middle of the road, dancing on his toes, his arms wide, guarding an imaginary goal.

He challenged me: “Toby – shoot!”

As I swung my leg, my cleats slipped on the sidewalk. Before I fell backwards, my foot shot under the ball and sent it arcing high toward Brian's make-believe goal. He leapt sensationally but the ball flew over him.

This title in the “Sports Stories” series focuses on soccer. It is the third book in the series by the author, Robert Rayner. His first book, Walker's Runners, was nominated for the Ann Connor Brimer Award.

     Toby loves to play soccer. While not a skilled player, he is a good team player. He is overweight and the team clown. His friends are also on the team. Shay can do tricks with the ball, Julie is super fast, and Brian is a fantastic goalie. Because the school sponsors basketball instead of soccer, the kids that want to play soccer get together every week and play against the kids from the next town of Pleasant Harbour. The Brunswick players are going to their weekly game when they notice a stranger watching them. Toby is uncomfortable until the team members are told that he is the new boss of the twins' mother. Mr. Fleet is a past member of the E.C.C., the Eastern Canadian Cougars. He offers to help them improve their skills and move into the next level of the game. A meeting is called of all the parents to discuss the possibility of a coach.

     What had started out with kids getting together to have fun becomes more serious. With a coach, the teams start following stricter rules and don't change team members to even out the teams. The Pleasant Harbour parents decide that their team also needs a coach. Mr. Flint, the Brunswick coach, signs the kids up to do fund raising so that they can raise money to buy uniforms. Some of the team are not happy with the direction the team is taking. With the third game, both teams have coaches, and the play has become far more serious. There is name calling between the two teams. The teams are no longer friends, and even Cuz and Toby don't have their customary hug goodbye at the end of the game. With their uniforms and serious practices, Shay and Toby realize that they are no longer playing “just for kicks.” Toby worries that his skills are not up to the rest of the team and he will let them down.

     With coaches, parents, and then a professional referee, the games take a serious turn, and both teams play to win at any cost. When Julie makes a dirty move on Cuz, a member on the other team, she is given a red-card and can't play the next game. The teams thought the season was over, but the parents don't want to end with a tie, and so one final game is scheduled. Shay, Julie and Toby discuss the changing game, and Toby has an idea. He calls Cuz and Chip to set the plan in motion. When teams say they will strike if the parents don't behave, the referee supports them and the teams take back their game.

     Just for Kicks will appeal to the intended audience and particularly sports fans. The soccer is realistic with the friendship among the players and between the teams very believable. The vocabulary is effective with suitable word choice. When the kids get the idea of a strike, it comes from a neighborhood factory talking about a strike. The plot is simple but suitable for the intended readers. Chapters are short with a question or high emotional pull at the end.

     The theme is a strength of this series. Students in this age group will enjoy the soccer as a major focus of the book. Another strength is the characterization. There is a good mix of believable male and female characters. This novel would be a great addition to a school, public or personal library.


Deborah Mervold, a retired teacher-librarian, educator and Resource Based Learning Consultant, resides in Shellbrook, SK.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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