________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 13. . . .November 25, 2011


The Magnificent Mario.

Mike Leonetti. Illustrated by Gary Chatterton.
Toronto, ON: Northwinds Press/Scholastic Canada, 2011.
30 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-1-4431-0705-1.

Subject Heading:
Lemieux, Mario, 1965- -Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

**½ /4



I told the guys about him [Lemieux] at practice. "We can be just like Mario," I said. "He hasn't given up and neither should we. Once, the Hurricanes were down by a score of 6-1. But Mario scored 6 goals, winning the game 7-6!"

"That's a great story, but Mario's not here," Claude said.

Yeah, but if we work hard and help each other on the ice, maybe we can start winning more games."


Mike Leonetti has developed a pattern of creating "historical" hockey books in which an icon of NHL hockey is somehow linked to a young hockey-playing boy. Among Leonetti's previous books are A Hero Named Howe, The Mighty Tim Horton, Number Four Bobby Orr, Wendel and the Great One and Gretzky's Game. With The Magnificent Mario, Leonetti works with a new illustrator, Gary Chatterton.

     The book's central juvenile character is Max who plays centre for his local team, the Hurricanes, a squad that has lost many games this year. Following yet another loss, this one by a score of 5-1, a dispirited Max tells his father that he'd like to quit playing hockey. His father's response is to give him Mario Lemieux's rookie card, along with a bit of a pep talk in which he reminds Max that when Mario entered the NHL, he joined what was then the league's worst team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, this season, the Penguins are potential Stanley Cup contenders. Dad also reminds Max that "[t]hey [the Penguins] wouldn't be there if Mario had just given up."

      After doing some research about Lemieux, Max gives his own team a spirited address at a practice, saying, "We can be just like Mario....He hasn't given up and neither should we." Whether or not as a result of Max's speech, the Hurricanes do improve and actually get into the playoffs and advance as far as the second round where they are eliminated. Max takes the final loss well. "It was disappointing, but after such a bad start to the season, we knew we'd gotten a lot better."

      In the parallel story, Max and his father follow Mario and the Penguins as they advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The book concludes with the Penguins winning the Cup and Mario's then returning to his old neighbourhood with the trophy for a visit during which Max receives an autographed photo.

internal art      According to a note on the copyright page, "The hockey events depicted in this book about the career and achievements of Mario Lemieux are all true." Unlike some of Leonetti's earlier books, this one appears to focus more on the hockey pro's story than it does on the young boy's, and the plot seems somewhat choppy. About halfway through the book, readers discover that, after the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup finals and lose the first game to the Minnesota North Stars:

I [Max] was really disappointed. But then Dad was assigned to shoot the next game in Pittsburgh. "Hey, Max, why don't you come with me? I know someone who can get us a ticket."

     This is the first time that readers learn that Max's father is apparently a sports photographer, and young readers might wonder why Leonetti had not mentioned the father's attendance at games of their home town team, the Montreal Canadiens.

      Gary Chatterton's use of a realistic style results in illustrations which effectively capture the action and intensity of the pro hockey games as well as the more subdued moments between father and son or between Max and his teammates and coach. At times, however, there is a dissonance between the illustrations and the text. For example, on pages 6-7, the text principally talks about Lemieux's early pre-NHL years, but the two-page illustration shows Mario deking out two Montreal defensemen, a team never mentioned in the text. (As an aside, the Penguin's goalie in this illustration appears to be without his goalie stick.) On pages 22-23, youngsters must make the connection between the illustration of Lemieux scoring on a New Jersey Devils goalie with a text that describes Mario's scoring five goals in five different ways on New Year's Eve 1998 but never identifies the Penguins' opposition.

      Given that Lemieux retired (for the second time) in 2006, his name may actually still be familiar to some of the book's intended young readers. For those readers whose knowledge of "Mario the Magnificent" is limited, Leonetti provides a one-page biography of Lemieux on the book's closing page.


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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