Sunday, June 22, 2008

Scarves and Sombreros

When he was in trouble, his Mammy called him Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but the rest of the world calls him Pele. He needs no introduction. I mention it because he’s after writing one. He’s written the foreword to Scarves and Sombreros, the follow-up to the best selling Megs and The Vootball Kids. I don’t know if it’s possible to get a more famous endorsement for a football book, but I’d stick my neck out and say that the book is worthy of it. Pele says, “The Megs series…is a great example of how football speaks the same language to people all over the world, regardless of their background, colour or religion.” Of course, he’s absolutely right, but these books are also engaging, fun and this one in particular looks at real life issues.

Co-written with Aussie and Middlesborough keeper Mark Schwarzer, Neil Montagnana-Wallace has knocked together two of what is set to be a five volume series. Schwarzer’s involved because he thinks “It’s a great way to encourage children to read. It’d be difficult to disagree with the sentiment.

Scarves and Sombreros continues the story of mad for football, Edward “Megs” Morrison. Freshly immigrated to Australia, he’s still struggling to adapt to his new environment. The newly formed school football team and coach (see Book 1 Review) are helping him settle, especially when a trip to the UK - a chance to return home for Megs - is offered to the league winners. The team must pull together in the face some stiff competition, some tough choices, get around some underhanded antics and still try and win the league.

The first book was good. I like the second one better. It’s snappier. It deals with deeper issues - the scarf of the title arises from the controversy over whether a female Muslim team mate should be allowed to play while wearing her hijab or not. There’s also a heap of life lesson stuff about ‘growing pains’, parental problems and tolerance. And there’s plenty of football.

This time round the story is incisively and insightfully put together, we still get the anticipated happy ending, but, rather than use contrite ways to find solutions to the questions the book raises, Wallace is more than happy for the reader to decide the answers for themselves. While some resolution is required for the story, there’s no preaching and as a cynical adult reader, I for one, appreciate that.

It’s a rare thing for a sequel to equal its predecessor, its rarer still for it not so much surpass as outstrip it. The action on the pitch is lengthier and more exciting and Wallace having garnered greater command of his art has interwoven much stronger story elements.

While his use of modern technology like emails and references to iPods and Archie Thompson work well to push the story forward and place it in a self-aware contemporary setting, there is a danger that they may date the book. Though having said that, if you want the kids to read it, the kids have to be able to relate, right?

Scarves and Sombreros is an excellent example of good football fiction, better still it’s an excellent example of any kind of adolescent fiction. The third in the series, Megs & The Crazy Legs, will follow soon and promises a great deal. Messrs Montagnana-Wallace, Schwarzer and Arantes do Nascimento have done a good thing here. Let’s hope they can keep it up.

Which maybe makes it a keepie-uppie contest?

You can buy the books in most bookshops, or on the website, It’s worth having a look at anyway.


Paula Weston said...

Great post Inky (yes, still trying to work out the best short-form of your blogging name - let me know when I hit one you like!)

I just wanted to say your posts are always well written, with a lot of thought put into them. I hope others are reading and enjoying them (with the appropriate enthusiasm for football, which I know, I lack).

Another question for you: has reading so much young adult fiction with a football theme affected the way you view the genre? Has your opinion/perception of it changed since you started your phD?

the ink-stained toe-poker said...

It's a good question Westie.
(I'll stick with the classics)
the answer is...Aye and naw.

I'm teaching YA fiction this semester and I'm well up there in terms of reading what's good and what's not. I'm not as all over it as I would want to be right enough.

And my views/perceptions on and around the genre have changed, in some cases quite considerably - but that's a subject for discussion for another day.

I think the second Megs book is a good example of childrens/YA fiction on its own. Its also a good football book.

If my view has changed since I started my PhD, and it probably has, it'll be because its better informed - with a broader and richer understanding - I suppose. I imagine it'll be even better after some teaching.

Paula Weston said...

Thanks pal!

Look forward to chatting about this in person when we finally catch up.