________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 6 . . . . October 9, 2009


The Rocket.

Mike Leonetti. Illustrated by Greg Banning.
Toronto, ON: North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada, 2009.
30 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-98948-0.

Subject Heading:
Richard, Maurice, 1921-2000-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

***1/2 /4


We took to the ice on our outdoor rink. As soon as I got the puck I heard someone say, "He's not as good as his brother." Once I fanned on a pass and heard, "Aw, come on! Your brother wouldn't have missed that!"

Then I heard some people call out to a smaller player on the other team. "Hey, where's your big brother? Is he going to fight for you?" He was getting it just as bad as I was.

I didn't know him, but he was great. He could stickhandle and shoot the puck, and he scored both goals for their team. It seemed like he had the puck the whole time he was on the ice.


Author Leonetti and illustrator Banning have teamed up on three previous hockey related books, Wendel and the Great One, A Hero Named Howe and Maple Leafs A-Z. In the first two, Leonetti created a plot in which a young hockey-playing boy comes in contact with an NHL star. In both Wendel and the Great One and A Hero Named Howe, the storyline was acceptable but seemed somewhat forced. However, such is not the case with The Rocket in which Leonetti has created a situation to which many children can readily relate, that of being unfavourably compared to a sibling.

     It's the 1943-44 hockey season, and André, who plays wing on his Montreal school's hockey team, St. Marguerite, is not certain that he wants to play hockey any more because he's always being unfavourably compared to his older brother who plays defence. "I knew as soon as I hit the ice I'd start hearing how I'd never be as good as my older brother Marcel. Everyone said he'd play in the National Hockey League one day, maybe for the Montreal Canadiens."

     As was standard practice at that historical period, André's game was played on an outdoor rink where that day's opponent was the team from St. Francois school. Although André is on the receiving end of the negative comments he had anticipated receiving, he is not the only one whose play is being compared to that of a sibling (see excerpt above). When André comes home, Marcel is quite pleased that André scored a goal in his team's 3-2 win, but André still "wondered if [he] could ever escape his shadow."

     Leonetti then interrupts André's storyline to provide his young readers with the information that they need to know about Maurice Richard who was then in his second season with the Canadiens. Richard's connection with André's family is through Maurice Richard's working in the same war materiels plant in which André's father is employed. "He [Maurice] worked at the plant most days but still played for the Canadiens at night." As an aside, today's youth might wonder why an NHLer would need a day job when today's base NHL salary for the 2009-2010 season is $500,000. However, the most the Rocket ever earned in one year in his 18 years in the NHL was $25,000 (the equivalent of $200,000.00 in 2008 dollars). For André, one of the advantages of having Maurice Richard as his father's coworker is that Maurice "said that he could help us get tickets to the playoffs!"

     After André's team loses to St. Francois in the playoffs, André still encounters the taunted St. Francois player during pickup games on a local frozen river. The next time the two boys meet is during the second game of the Stanley Cup playoffs between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum. There, the two boys and their fathers are seated next to each other. It is only after Maurice Richard scores all five goals in Montreal's 5-1 win that André learns that the boy seated next to him is none other than the Maurice's younger brother, Henri. From observing the positive relationship that exists between Henri and Maurice, André resolves to modify the feelings he has about his brother.

     Again Banning's full-page and double-page spreads are simply outstanding. His on-ice action illustrations never look posed, and his interior paintings include the little details that contribute to a sense of realism. Banning obviously researched the time period, and, for example, his closing image of the family gathered in the living room to listen to the final Stanley Cup game on the radio is spot on in terms of period clothing, furniture and other decor.

     The book's final page contains a black and white photo of the Canadien-uniformed Richard brothers, Maurice "The Rocket" and Henri "The Pocket Rocket," plus a brief biography of each.

     Although I suggested an elementary school audience for The Rocket, the book will also find an adult audience among those for whom the Richard brothers are part of their hockey-viewing past.

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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