________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 4 . . . .October 14, 2005


Corner Kick. (Sports Stories, 66).

Bill Swan.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2004.
115 pp., pbk., & cl., $8.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55028-816-4 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55028-817-2 (cl.).

Subject Heading:
Soccer stories.
Jealousy-Juvenile fiction.
Teamwork (sports)-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Karen Rankin.

*** /4



"Game? We're after the championship this year," said Erika.

Miriah shook her head so her hair cascaded from side to side. "As long as Mr. SuperStar doesn't strain himself," she said. "We wouldn't want to ruin his soccer season for something as silly as a championship."

"If I thought I'd get hurt playing with this bunch," Michael said, mainly to Miriah, "then I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't risk my whole soccer season for any school."

From the middle of the field, Ms. Wright blew a long, shrill blast on her whistle. This was the signal for everyone to gather in the centre of the field. The practice was about to begin. Michael excelled at everything. He wore the coolest clothes, watched the best movies, played only the most recent games if a new version came out, his mother was the first in line to buy it. He did as well in school as he wanted to do, which was high B's. High enough to satisfy his parents and teachers, and not so high that the other kids resented him. He was popular in school. His Grade Seven classmates were suitably impressed when his father drove up to pick him up one day in his brand new, bright yellow Hummer, a vehicle large enough to push a school bus.


Michael, the protagonist of Corner Kick, is an excellent soccer player as well as a popular and competent grade seven student at Tarcisio Parisotto Elementary School. He enjoys being the best at what he does and tends to drop activities (such as the chess club) if he isn't the "star." Because Michael plays for the Oshawa Kicks, the current provincial indoor soccer champions, he doesn't usually bother with school soccer. But, when Miriah, a girl he wants to impress, asks him to help Tarcisio's losing soccer team, Michael says yes. The school goes from being last place in the league to first, with Michael, almost single-handedly, winning each game they play. In addition to the school's soccer team, Miriah wants to help War Orphans of the World. After her class presentation, most of the grade seven students agree to sell raffle tickets to raise funds. Michael takes a lot of tickets, but he has no intention of actually trying to sell them. One day part way through soccer season, a new student, Zahir Jamait, joins the grade seven class wearing a jacket (coincidentally) cast-off by Michael. Based on the look of Zahir and his second-hand jacket, Michael makes some unflattering assumptions and goes from being condescending to downright rude to the new student. At the same time, Zahir is proving far more helpful to Miriah with her War Orphans project than is Michael who would really rather not get involved. When Michael gets an injury that limits his soccer skills, winning the championship becomes somewhat doubtful. It becomes a real concern when Tarcisio's team learns that the opposing championship play-off team has two players from the Oshawa Kicks. When the new boy tries out for the team, Michael finds out that not only is Zahir a good student, he's an excellent soccer player. Michael resolves to quit the team. But, when Zahir finally gets a chance to speak with Michael and explain that he, himself, is a war orphan lucky enough to have been adopted by a Canadian family, Michael has an epiphany: he finally understands the value of teamwork, of everybody doing their own little bit to help achieve a common goal. Despite his injury and the possibility that playing in the championship game for Tarcisio could cost Michael his season with the Kicks, he decides to play the final game. Together, he and Zahir sell Miriah's raffle tickets and then work out a strategy to stump the opposing team. With an exciting, slow-motion final goal by the littlest kid on the team, Tarcisio wins the championship.

     Corner Kick is a book with more than one message. The main messages are the importance of being a team player and the value of volunteering. Racism and prejudice are also touched upon. While all are obviously worthy and creatively threaded through the novel (from—for instance—the way bricks fit together, to the historical significance of immigration, to the creation of a collage, to the importance of the School Council), they tend to slow the pace somewhat. All of the characters in Corner Kick, from the home-room teacher who likes to remind his class of his Irish roots, to Brandon ( Michael's greatest, though somewhat dim-witted fan), are believable.

     Corner Kick has a third person narrative from Michael's point of view. In creating Michael, author Bill Swan gave himself a challenge: holding the reader's attention with a somewhat unappealing protagonist. Michael is the type of person we've all met at least once: a winning guy who comes across as very self-assured, but who can also get ugly because of his own self-doubts. As is typically the case, the majority of Michael's classmates are dazzled by his soccer skills and general 'cool'; however, the school principal, Michael's home-room teacher, and his soccer coach can all see that he is a little too self-centered and quick to judge. Readers can predict that Michael's attitude will eventually change, but how this change comes about is a nice surprise.


Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, writer and editor of children's stories.

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

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