CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 20. . . .February 3, 2017
Big Game Jitters. (The Secret Games of Maximus Todd).
L. M. Nicodemo. Illustrated by Graham Ross.
Halifax, NS: Formac, 2016.
94 pp., hardcover, $14.95.
Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.
Review by Amy Westbury.
Spencer Vilane was mean. He bullied kids in the schoolyard. He chased the neighbourhood cats. If Spencer Vilane became the soccer champion, it would be like the bad guy winning at the end of a movie.
“See? We can’t lose,” Max said.
“It’ll be fine, Max. It’s not the disaster you think it is,” said Mom. “It’s ONLY a game”.
Max rolled his eyes. Sometimes grown-ups didn’t get it.
With a quirky main character and a relatable plot of childhood mishaps, Big Game Jitters is a pleasing read for young readers who are moving away from picture books and into short novels with chapters.
With the story taking place over a single day, readers meet and quickly become familiar with Maximus Todd, the kid who just can’t sit still. On the morning of the soccer championship, his lucky Laserman socks have gone missing. With no mutual understanding from Mom or Grandpop of the nuclear level of catastrophe this loss causes, Max is left lamenting that, sometimes, adults just don’t understand. As such, he responds with creative problem solving, tucking a Laserman action figure into a pair of hockey socks in hopes the same luck with prevail.
During the climax of the soccer match, Max gets a case of the “super fidgets”. Using a secret game as his coping strategy, Max finds himself caught between the need to calm himself down and not costing his team the soccer championship. It is here that the story truly shines as Max’s friends, Shiv and Mandy Beth, offer kindness and understanding to his plight. Not only do his friends try to shield him from teammates quizzical glances and the hurtful comments hurled by antagonist Spencer Vilane, they also offer assurance Max’s difficulty will pass and offer support, not judgment, in his chosen strategy.
Featuring fun artwork and typography, this engaging early chapter book is sure to please. The simple yet effective black and white illustrations by Graham Ross help bring the characters and major plot points to life. Although some readers may yearn for a colour edition, the simplicity of the drawings allows the story to be the standout and helps emphasize that Maximus Todd could be any student, of any race or ethnic background, in any school.
Part of a larger series, Big Game Jitters offers not only a glimpse into being the kid who is a little bit different, but it also exemplifies authentic friendships offering compassion, kindness and understanding. Readers are certain to not only like Maximus Todd but also develop a genuine empathy for those who struggle in ways that aren’t always apparent at first glance.
Amy Westbury is a teacher-librarian at Bruce Trail Public School in Milton, ON.
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