________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 22 . . . . June 22, 2007


First and Ten. (South Side Sports).

Jeff Rud.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2007.
169 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-55143-690-6.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


His thighs ached, his lungs burned for oxygen and his entire body was coated in sweat. Lined up with fifty other huffing kids wearing shoulder pads, white midriff jerseys, shorts, helmets, and cleats, Matthew Hill tried to raise his own knees as high as Coach Reynolds was demanding from his spot on the grass ten feet in front of the players.

"Come on, you guys! Drive up those legs," the coach shouted as he raised his clipboard toward the cloudless blue sky. It was four o'clock, and the hottest part of the afternoon had already passed, but it was still uncomfortably humid. Mid-August was normally the time when Matt would be playing hoops at Anderson Park or swimming out at Long Lake, but this year was different. This year, he had decided to go out for middle-school football. And football, Matt was quickly discovering, was not a sport for wimps.


It is late summer, and Matt and his best friend are headed for football tryouts as they begin eighth grade at South Side Middle School. Best friends they have been, and best friends they remain, in spite of Matt's making the team and Phil’s deciding that, if he isn't good enough to be a player, he'll be one of the managers. In fact, the whole book is about friendship and forgiveness. Friends stay friends; Matt's father suddenly turns up after a ten-year absence--and seems to be a good sort of person/father in spite of that delinquency, in marked contrast to one of the other parents who exemplifies all the traits of the worst sort of 'hockey dad.' Later in the season, when Matt suddenly realizes that this father is actually physically abusing his son for supposed shortcomings on the field, he manages to be both helpful and kind, in spite of the fact that the kid has caused him quite a lot of grief at practices and in games. The book also has a lot of exciting descriptions of games, practices, pep talks, and reprimands which make for plenty of page-turning moments. So, for sports enthusiasts, it is a really good read.

     It is not, however, a very realistic book. True, the Stingers did not win every game--in particular they lost the one that really mattered--but Matt and his friends are just too nice, too loyal, too sympathetic, and, frankly, too multi-racial, to be totally credible. Matt's dad is nice too, and so understanding. And his mother is everything she could possibly be, including being an adequate provider of things like football equipment and pizzas without loading Matt with guilt about expenses. But hey, we all need the occasional exciting, feel-good story and this is definitely one of them.

     As someone working in an elementary school, I also appreciate the fact that not everyone feels he has to express himself in double negatives and soon-to-be-dated slang. It's a refreshing change from the books written entirely from the perspective and in the vocabulary of an illiterate protagonist.


Mary Thomas works in her school library in Winnipeg, MB, and fights a constant battle over the use of 'may' rather than 'can' in requests for a new bookmark.


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

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