CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 5. . . .October 1, 2010
Home Team. (Orca Young Readers, #10).
Eric Walters, Jerome Williams & Johnnie Williams.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2010.
167 pp., pbk., $7.95.
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Rebecca King.
"And just before we start our assignment," Mrs. Orr said, "can somebody, once more, just to be certain we all understand, tell us the difference between a friendly letter and a business letter??
A flock of hands went up. I knew the answer, but there was no point in being a show-off about it.
"Jennifer," Mrs. Orr said.
"A friendly letter is written to a friend and a business letter is written to a business," she answered, stating the obvious.
"That is correct," Mrs. Orr said.
Jennifer gave a smug little smile, like she'd just invented a car that ran on water instead of giving the world's lamest answer. My problem was I hated lame. I hated obvious. And I hated suck-ups.
This was grade six - maybe only the first week of grade six, but still it was grade six. Shouldn't we be old enough to avoid all of that? I stuck up my hand.
"Yes, Nicholas?" Mrs. Orr asked.
"What if your friend is running the business that you're writing to? Is that a friendly letter to a business or a business letter to a friend?"
There was a twittering of giggles. That only encouraged me.
"Or what if it is your friend, but you want to write them something that is businessy - is that a word? Well, either way, is that a friendly letter or--?"
"It isn't a word," she said cutting me off.
Eric Walters is an extremely competent writer. In the opening paragraphs of Home Team printed above, he successfully sets the tone, the scene and demonstrates something about his main character, Nick.
Readers of Walters' basketball series will be familiar with Nick and Kia, but those who have not will quickly understand their characters, their friendship, and their obsession. As required by the basketball series, they are obsessed with basketball, and in this tenth book in the series, they are obsessed with having members of the Raptors basketball team visit their school. Nick, who though a good student and usually well behaved, demonstrates in the opening scene that, like many grade 6 students, he is ready to push the limits of what is acceptable in class. Fortunately for Nick, Mrs. Orr and their school, his energy is usually aimed at something constructive. When required to write a business letter for an assignment, Nick decides to write to the Raptors about coming to visit his school. When his request is turned down, he is able to generate the interest of his classmates and, in fact, the whole school in refusing to accept no for an answer.
Nick spurs the school into action. A letter writing campaign, posters by all grades, a vote to change the name of the school team to the Raptors, all meet the same answer - the best the Raptors will offer is a promise of a visit next year. This response is not acceptable to the grade 6 students who by then will have moved on to Junior High. Nick's final stroke of genius is to use the sod that has been delivered to resurface the school playing field to spell out Go, Raptors, Go in letters 20 feet high. The school is on a flight path for the airport, and pilots and passengers notice. The sign makes the news on TSN, and, as a result, the basketball team is invited to attend a Raptors' game in the owners' private box. When the team is asked to the locker room after the game, Nick refuses because this treat is offered to the team but not to the whole school, and the whole school has been part of their campaign.
Jerome Williams, who is a friend of Nick's from a previous book and a co-author of, as well as character in, this book, suggests that the school try giving something back to the community by collecting used sneakers for the Soles for Souls campaign for children in Africa, a program Jerome had mentioned to Nick earlier in the book. As a result of this successful campaign, 500 pairs of sneakers are collected from a school population of 550-650 students, and the Raptors finally visit the school, and not just one player but the whole team. Nick, too, is commended for his ability to inspire the whole school to action and his determination in the face of difficulty.
Though this series is a basketball series, there is very little time given to basketball in this book. Nick and Kia are still on the school team, and the team and their prospects for success for the season, are mentioned, but little time is spent on the description of nail-bitingly exciting basketball action. The only game described in any detail is the Raptors' game that the team attends. In fact, the assembly where the Raptors come to visit the school gets as much attention and elicits as much emotional response.
Walters likes to throw in a variety of points of view and provide uplifting role models. First, we have Nick. Nick is creative in his methods of promoting the pursuit of the Raptors' visit and successful in motivating the other students, and, in fact, the whole school. Nick is also willing to assume responsibility for his plans. When the use of the sod, which a fellow teammate has pointed out could be construed as vandalism, results in a visit to the principal's office, Nick is willing to take responsibility for his suggestion and relieved when there is no trouble. He is honorable and loyal to his fellow students. He refuses to visit the Raptors' locker room because it is a reward offered to the team and not the whole school. He then tackles the shoe project with energy. Is he larger than life, and a little too good to be true? Perhaps, but any school would benefit from his presence.
Kia is Nick's best friend and teammate, familiar to readers of the series. She is a good second in command for Nick, a girl playing on the boys' basketball team, a good role model. Here Kia is in conflict with Lailah, the new girl. Kia finds Lailah too girly, too fashion-conscious, too interesting to the boys in the class. When Lailah demonstrates her interest in basketball and joins the team despite her stick-on nails, Kia finally gives her a chance, and they become allies. Nick is very attracted to Lailah, though Kia is still his best friend. Nick thinks Lailah is pretty, and he particularly admires her self-confidence. When he speaks to Lailah about this, she confides to him that she finds it difficult to start a new school, something she has done almost every year.
These three, with the rest of the school basketball team, are Walters' heroes - examples of how students should behave. They work and play hard, are considerate of others, full of confidence and enthusiasm. They show determination but pursue their goals, mostly within the rules. Perhaps the picture Walters paints is a little rosy, but what teacher or coach would object to working with these students?
Eric Walters is a little like Deborah Ellis. They both frequently find a subject that interests them and construct a well-crafted story that fleshes out that subject for the reader. Both authors are very competent in presenting their readers with a subject or situation that will capture the readers' interest. Often it is not the brilliance of their writing (though bad writing would certainly detract from the story) but the subject, itself, that holds readers' attention.
Home Team is well-crafted and competently written. Fans of the series will be pleased to have another story about Nick and Kia.
Rebecca King is a Library Support Specialist with the Halifax Regional School Board, NS.
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