CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 7. . . .October 19, 2012
Foul Play. [Original title: One Cold Armpit.]
Karen Edwards. Illustrated by Bojan Redzic.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2012.
66 pp., pbk., $5.99.
Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.
Review by Meredith Cleversey.
As I walked closer, I stepped on something hard and crunchy. When I looked down I saw a million tiny pieces of glass sparkling beneath my feet. Looking up, I noticed our car. The side mirror had been smashed off and the metal part had been thrown across the yard. The window on the passenger's side had been broken too.
My stomach felt sick and as I began to run, my dad's big shoes made me trip and fall. I got up, trying to keep the big shoes on my feet, and made it up the steps and into the house.
When Jordy wakes up on Friday morning, he's looking forward to ice skating, hot chocolate, and the weekend when he is going to get his brand new winter jacket. However, stepping outside his house, Jordy is shocked to find something very unsettling—overnight, his neighbourhood has been ransacked by vandals.
Foul Play, written by Karen Edwards and illustrated by Bojan Redzic, tells the tale of 10-year-old Jordy Jones, an average kid who unexpectedly has to deal with a neighbourhood vandalism. Jordy is upset to find out that his neighbourhood has been damaged by some local teenagers, but the reality of the crime really strikes him when he finds out that his parents, who have to pay for repairs to their damaged car, can't afford to get him the new winter jacket he has been looking forward to. Things get worse when Jordy discovers that the new kid, Ryan, is the brother of one of the vandals, and when Ryan gets a new winter jacket—the very one Jordy was going to get—Jordy becomes furious. But when Jordy starts helping a neighbour clean up her yard from the attack, and he discovers that Ryan has to deal with a father who yells at him constantly, Jordy begins to learn what it's like to put aside your own feelings to help others in need.
This story, originally published under the title One Cold Armpit, won the Saskatchewan Book Award for Children's Literature in 2009. Now, it is being re-released by Scholastic, under the title Foul Play and with new illustrations by Bojan Redzic.
Foul Play brings up a couple of very interesting topics. Vandalism against a neighbourhood is a serious, but not altogether common, subject to be presented in a book for children. The underlying messages of this story, that being a part of a community and helping those in need, as well as understanding that sometimes even the guilty parties of such an attack might have difficulties of their own, are important. And in addition to the vandalism plot, this story also gives an outsider's perspective to an abusive household. Ryan's father is seen to yell at Ryan constantly and to hit him in the head after a hockey game. Because stories about abuse often take place within the world of the abused, showing it from the outside is a unique approach to the topic.
However, Foul Play fails to really follow through with any of its plot lines. Since the vandals, while supposedly arrested, are never confronted in the book, no repercussions are actively seen from the attacks. Jordy helps one neighbour clean her yard and, in doing so, forms a bond with her, but the community as a whole didn't band together as much as it initially seemed they might. Jordy also recognizes the problems Ryan faces with his father, but while Jordy's parents and Jordy's friend, Blair, and his family are all aware of it, no one does anything to stop the abuse. These depictions could be considered very realistic representations of how such actions would be handled in an average neighbourhood. However, for a book focussing directly on these issues, a little more resolution would have been nice to see, particularly in regards to Ryan's family concerns. The pacing and flow of the story are nicely balanced between a serious plot and scenes of fun excitement (such as when Jordy gets cookies from his neighbour or plays hockey with his friends), but the book felt like it was getting cut short, the ending a little abrupt for the story that had begun to unfold within its pages.
Foul Play is the story of one boy's reaction to his neighbourhood being vandalized. While none of the problems addressed in this story are ever truly resolved, the topics raised and the underlying message of friendship and community are presented in a easy to understand and fun-filled way. For those looking to find a story about making the best out of an unexpected and unwelcome situation, Foul Play is a good choice.
Meredith Cleversey is a librarian who lives in Cambridge, ON. She loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.
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