Review: The Fox and the Ghost King

Cover of The Fox and the Ghost KingWhat do you get when you cross foxes with football and the ghost of King Richard III?

Give up?

Well, I’ll tell you. You get Michael Morpurgo’s The Fox and the Ghost King, that’s what. It’s a pretty odd sounding combo, I know, but the result is a really sweet against-the-odds, underdog (or should that be underfox?) story.

It’s a little bit of fairy-tale blended with a little bit of history, and a whole lot of pluck.

Cover of The Tale of Jemima PuddleduckI don’t know any foxes personally, but think they have a bit of a bad rap. They are usually portrayed as villains – the Sandy Whiskered Gentleman in Jemima Puddleduck, for example.  But they are so darn cute, I’m sure they don’t really deserve it, do they? The fox family in this story are definitely on the cute side, anyway.

What I didn’t know about foxes is that they are football fans. And no matter where they live, their favourite team is Leicester City, otherwise known as The Foxes (naturally). Now, what I didn’t know about foxes is far surpassed by what I didn’t know about football. I know now that Leicester City have long been the underdogs of the Premier League, till in 2015-16 when a little bit of magic turned things around for them. This bit of the story really is true. The other bit of truth in the story is the discovery of Richard III’s body – under a carpark if you recall.

The magical bit is the way that Michael Morpurgo weaves these threads together, telling the tale through the eyes of a cute and cheeky little fox cub. Odd combo it may be, but it definitely makes a fabulous read for a small person.

Further reading

It’s kick-off time – celebrate with some great soccer books

FIFA U-20 World Cup TrophyThe FIFA U-20 World Cup has kicked off and will run until 20 June. Quite a few of the games are being played in Christchurch so you could even get along to watch a game or two.

The tournament is held every four years and there are teams from all over the world competing, including Hungary, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Honduras, Brazil and of course New Zealand.

We have heaps of books in the library about football (or soccer as it widely known), from learning how to play the game to stories about soccer.

To find more about soccer try these:

For more information about the FIFA U-20 World Cup see their website.

A novel approach to team sports!

Cover of The Taliban Cricket ClubWorld Cup Cricket has us in its grip. Some of us are bowled over; some of us are going in to bat for the team and the rest of us thought we’d just read a novel where the dull thwack of bat against ball forms an integral part of the plot.

Bowled for a maiden. No such good novel exists. Well maybe one that isn’t too dire: The Taliban Cricket Club.

If we widen the search to include other team sports, like rugby, there’s Lloyd Jones’ novel about the 1905 All Blacks – The Book of Fame. And soccer/football has Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch in its line-up. But it’s slim pickings. There isn’t even very much in the way of mediocre/rubbish team sport fiction writing, which is weird.

Cover of Running the riftBut sports where individuals take part have generated many more novels. Want a novel about running? Award winning Running the Rift is set in Rwanda and is an uplifting  book about  genocide and running and healing. And if that doesn’t appeal, you can choose from 88 other novels on running, and I include Haruko Murakami’s What I Talk About when I Talk About Running because even when Murakami writes non-fiction, it reads like poetry.

Swimmers have quite a good choice as well: Herman Koch and Summer House with Swimming Pool, Alan Hollinghurst and The Swimming Pool Library and The J.M. Barrie Ladies’ Swimming Society with its link to the author of Peter Pan. And cyclists have a large range of novels related to their sport. Gold by Chris Cleave is probably the pick of Goldthe bunch, but for a gentle read there is the popular A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar.

Multitudes of people play (and support) team sports, and just as many people are avid fiction readers. Why then are there so few novels with a team sport theme? Am I missing something here?

Truth to tell, the only cricketing reference that I remember from all my years of reading, is the dull thwack of bat on ball drifting up  from the gently sloping lawn in front of the homestead in Mary Wesley’s novel The Camomile Lawn.

And that will do very nicely for me.

The beautiful game – in our own backyard

CoverThe annual Global Football Festival is a Christchurch celebration of the worldwide appeal of the beautiful game. This weekend and next, teams from different cultures living in Christchurch  will battle it out over three days of keen competition.

I’ve been to this event a couple of times over the years, and there’s always a relaxed, festive  atmosphere. Think a mini World Cup, but without the mind-numbingly loud vuvuzelas. The food stalls are pretty good too.

This year the eighth tournament will be played at a new venue, Linfield Park on Kearneys Road.

I went to an all boys’ school. Every one of us stank.

That’s a quote, and quite possibly the most accurate description of a New Zealand school experience I’ve ever read. It comes from the pen of Christchurch’s Ryan Nelsen. The All White and Blackburn Rovers defender proves himself to have quite a turn of phrase in A Beautiful Game: football through the eyes of the world’s greatest players.

Collated by English football writer Tom Watt, this  collection of memories and cultural snapshots delves into the stories of how some of the biggest names in the game started out, explores their childhoods and what football meant to them. It puts a very personal and intriguing angle on the world’s most professional game.

Organised into sections like hope, family, dedication, passion, flair and courage, the book gives a real insight into why football inspires devotion from legions of fans. The photographs are stunning and show people playing football on beaches, arid deserts and streets in places as diverse as Baghdad, Liberia and Cambodia.

For Nelsen it’s a story that takes him from Spreydon Domain to the World Cup finals – and its fantastic that a Kiwi features in a book like this. His story illustrates perfectly the opportunity  and the dream football represents for millions of people around the world. I’d recommend it if you’ve ever wondered why blokes like sport so much. If it whets your appetite, there’s plenty more football resources available online or at your library.

Do you have memories of Big League Soccer, late night F.A. Cup finals or stinking out the classroom after lunch-time battles like Ryan Nelsen? Or were you more of a sportophobe?

Mal Peet wins Guardian Children’s Prize

It turns out that my prediction for the winner of the Guardian Children’s Book Prize was wrong.  The winner was actually Mal Peet for his book, Exposure. Alison Flood from The Guardian describes Exposure as “a modern retelling of Othello, in which the Moor of Venice and his wife Desdemona are transformed into the South American equivalent of Posh and Becks.”  The book follows the fictional football legend Otello and sports journalist Paul Faustino, who have also featured in several of Mal Peet’s other books including The Penalty and Keeper.  Peet turned to writing these football themed novels for young adults as he felt that all football books for children were a load of rubbish.

We have all of his books in the library and you can read an interview with him in The Guardian here.

Exposure

Sport? Never interested. Shakespeare? Sometimes interested. Celebrities? Always interested. So a book about sport, with a plot based on a Shakespeare play and featuring a couple very similar to David and Victoria Beckham put me in something of a quandary.

On the one hand books about sport make me feel faint with boredom. On the other hand a book where Posh and Becks-like characters fall victim to several of the deadly sins has got to have something going for it.

And so it proved with Exposure, a Young Adult book with something for everyone. Mal Peet writes about soccer well enough to make it exciting to someone who regards not following sport as something of a badge of honour and he’s no slouch at building suspense in a part of the story that’s concerned with political corruption and homeless children. He can even handle romance – the doomed love story of Otello and Desmeralda is believable, romantic and sad without being soppy.

I’m so impressed I’m going to check out his other books – this could be the start of a beautiful friendship. Peet’s a definite must see at this month’s <a title="Mal Peet, appearing at this year's Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.