Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Born in Ghana, West Africa with one deformed leg, Emmanuel was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Even though Emmanuel only had one good leg, he was determined to do what the other children did—go to school, play soccer, and ride a bike. Unlike most children today, Emmanuel also had to work shining shoes and selling vegetables to help support his family. Because of his disability, people told him to “go out and beg, like other disabled people did.” However, Emmanuel refused to give up, and his experiences led him to ride 400 miles across his country to show that “being disabled does not mean being unable.”

Even though Emmanuel’s Dream is a picture book, most young readers will not be able to read the book independently because of the advanced vocabulary and text-heavy pages. Each page has 2 to 4 sentences and many of the sentences are long and complex. The simple illustrations use bright colors and show Emmanuel’s world. Through the pictures, readers will get a brief look at Ghana’s culture.

Because of his disability, Emmanuel faced many hardships and discrimination. However, his story focuses on how he overcame each difficult situation. Emmanuel’s Dream will entertain readers as it teaches them the importance of perseverance and hard work. Because of Emmanuel’s dedication, he was able to succeed in spreading his message. “He proved that one leg is enough to do great things—and one person is enough to change the world.”

If you’re looking for more inspiring sports related books that focus on people overcoming difficult situations, pick up a copy of She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton and Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • When Emmanuel was born, most people thought he would be “useless, or worse—a curse. His father left, never to return.”

Spiritual Content

  • Emmanuel was given his name because it means “God is with us.”
  • Emmanuel asked the king of his region “to give him a royal blessing.”

 

One on One

Chloe Gordon is super excited to attend summer soccer camp with her soccer sisters and fellow Breakers team members, Makena Walsh and Val Flores—even though she’s not quite as skilled as the other girls and her parents would rather her be spending her time practicing ballet.

When Chloe arrives, she discovers that the Breakers’ arch rival, Skylar Wilson, is rooming down the hall. Chloe worries that her camp experience will be more stressful than fun. Will the soccer sisters be able to band together and ignore Skylar’s bullying? Can Chloe overcome her fear of not being good enough in time for the big inter-camp match?

Former soccer player, coach, and motivational speaker Andrea Montalbano creates a fast-paced soccer story that teaches the value of determination. Readers will relate to Chloe, who is being targeted by Skylar, who has learned how to hide her bullying behavior. Besides the bullying, Chloe also struggles with self-confidence. After all, her mother doesn’t think Chloe should be on the team because “If you can’t be the best, why bother doing it at all?”

Even though One on One has a stereotypical plot, readers will enjoy its fast pace as it combines soccer and bullying into an engaging story. Told from Chloe’s point of view, One on One doesn’t just focus on the game; the story also gives a glimpse of Chloe’s home life, which adds humor and depth to the story. Chloe is a likeable character who has relatable conflicts both at home and at soccer camp.

One on One teaches about Brazil’s culture. Flavia, a camp counselor from Brazil, agrees to help Chloe with her soccer skills. When Chloe doesn’t make the team, Flavia is upset because Chloe doesn’t understand that winning isn’t always the most important thing. Flavia is also frustrated that the campers do not realize how privileged they are. Instead, “all you girls complain if the water is too warm or if you can’t win or if the field is not perfect. You have everything right in front of you, but yet you cannot see it.” Flavia shares her story, which gives Flavia’s cultural perspective as well as highlights the discrimination that girls in Brazil face. For example, in Brazil girls are expected to play with dolls, not soccer balls.

One on One’s high interest topic, advanced vocabulary, and short chapters make the story accessible to proficient readers. While One on One is the third installment of the Soccer Sisters series, each book can be read as a stand-alone book. While the story focuses on sports, the snippets of family life and drama off the field make One on One a book that all readers will enjoy. The book ends with questions, information on soccer in Brazil, a glossary of soccer terms, and a short biography on Olympian Brandi Chastain. Through Chloe’s experiences readers will learn lessons in sportsmanship as well as the importance of practice, determination, and keeping your word.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Skyler attempts to take down another player, Val. “At the last possible second, just as Skyler launched herself into the air, Val pulled the ball back. Skyler’s legs reached out for Val, but Val was too quick. Skyler flew through the air and landed with a thud.”
  • Chloe attempts to hit the ball into the goal, “but at the last second, another player got in front of her, knocking her to the side and clipping her above the eye with an elbow.” After the jab, Chloe has a black eye.
  • A food fight erupts in the cafeteria. “Chicken cutlets started flying. Pizza missiles landed on the wall… Edible pandemonium reigned. It was like a scene from an old movie Chloe’s father would have liked.”

 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “OMG” is used six times. When the girls get to camp, someone says, “OMG, this place looks like Hogwarts!”
  • Heck is used five times. For example, someone asks Chloe, “What the heck is going on here? Are we going to play some soccer or what?”
  • Skyler calls three girls losers several times. She also makes snide remarks at Chloe, such as calling her a princess.
  • Someone calls Skyler an idiot.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When someone calls three girls losers, Chloe “prayed Makena wouldn’t take the bait.”

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team

The Wild Boars soccer team is made up of explorers. The 12 members ventured deep into the caves at Tham Luang, further than even some seasoned cavers. They were bold with their exploring, looked out for one another, and worked well as a team. However, their adventurous spirit was met with bad luck when the team and their assistant coach became trapped in the cave. With the wet season approaching in Thailand, the mountain where the cave was located was saturated with water and when it started to rain, the caverns began to flood.

When the team went missing, rescuers and problem-solvers were called to action to rescue the team. In order to save the soccer team, rescuers would need a well-thought-out, coordinated plan. It was going to be a huge undertaking. The book takes the reader through the timeline of the rescue mission and dives into broader topics that color the event. Soontornvat highlights the importance of STEM in the mission and goes into the scientific details about the cave and how the water and sediment affected the mission. At the same time, there are subsections in the book that go into the historical and cultural context of the local community.

Buddhism and meditation is an important piece of this nonfiction story. Part of what made the mission successful was that the soccer team did not panic and they were able to focus their energy with meditation. “When thoughts of hunger, pain or shame come in through one window, you can notice them, and then let them float right out the other window, keeping the room of your mind clear from all that clutter.” The Wild Boars were trapped in the cave for 18 days and they needed to look within to ease their pain. The subsections on Buddhism and meditation are a great introduction to Eastern religion and meditation practices. Without overwhelming the reader with specifics, the book takes these concepts and displays them in a way that is relatable to a younger audience.

Soontornvat also touches on geopolitical issues that are present in Thailand, such as immigration and religious persecution in neighboring countries. While the story is focused on the rescue mission, Soontornvat uses the experiences of the Wild Boars’ assistant coach, Coach Ek, to understand asylum-seekers. Coach Ek was forced to migrate to Thailand from Myanmar to escape the armed conflict. Migrant children face tough odds as they often do not have the necessary support systems to help them. Coach Ek considers himself lucky to have found the Wild Boars because he was able to find community and serve as a mentor to the soccer players.

The photographs in the book bring humanity and a sense of urgency to the story, as well as highlight the scale of the rescue mission. Many of the pictures were taken during the mission. The massive undertaking of bringing the Wild Boars to safety is captured with photographs of heavy machinery, the elaborate sump systems, and camo-wearing Navy SEALs. The book has a cinematic feel to it and the fast-paced life-or-death story keeps the reader turning pages. With loads of first-hand accounts, artifacts, and photos, the reader will feel immersed in the rescue mission.

One of the underlying themes of the book is that collaboration and teamwork can accomplish amazing things. There is no shortage of heroism in this story as people from all over the globe pitch in to save the boys. Donations are made, scuba experts consulted, farmers help with the sump system and the soccer team supports each other during the trying times. For the team, their support for each other was paralleled through the lens of soccer, helping to make it relatable to young readers. “Through their time on the soccer field, they know what it feels like to work as a team to tackle something that seems impossible.” Despite the danger of being trapped and impossible odds, through collaboration and sheer willpower, the boys are brought to safety.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Tham Luang has a mythology of the Sleeping Lady which visitors pay their respects to at a shrine. In the story, “he [a servant who loved the princess] was captured and killed by the king’s soldiers. The heartbroken princess killed herself. Her blood became the water flowing in the cave and her body became the mountain.”
  • When discussing the probability of the soccer team’s survival, Major Hodges says, “if they are in there, they’re probably dead, and if we’re lucky, we will find their remains.”
  • When contextualizing the background of Coach Ek, it is said that “groups such as the Rohingya of Myanmar, have fled their ancestral land because they are persecuted and murdered by their own government.”
  • While making plans for a recovery, there is a reminder that “a dead body requires a recovery. Rick’s experience as a firefighter has trained him to be unemotional about such things, but trying to maneuver a lifeless body through the twists and turns of a sump is a grim and dangerous task.”
  • One of the Navy SEALs dies during the rescue effort. “When Saman’s partner finally emerges, he is pulling a lifeless Saman behind him. The other SEALs rush to revive him, but it’s too late.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The soccer team is sedated during the rescue mission. “Dr. Harris has finally decided to give the boys a sedative called ketamine. Ketamine is a common drug used during surgeries when the patient needs to be unconscious.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The caves at Tham Luang “house giants who were defeated by the Buddha himself.”
  • Before the Wild Boars go to bed, Coach Ek “tells them all to pray together.”
  • When discussing meditation, a background on Buddhism is given. “It was through meditation that the Buddha arrived at the pillars of his great teachings that guide all Buddhists today. The Buddha taught people how to free themselves from the suffering that is a natural part of life.”
  • The Thai variety of Buddhism is often intertwined with other spiritual beliefs. It is written that “spirits are everywhere; they can be gentle and protective, or moody and vengeful. Either way, spirits should be treated as respectfully as the living.”

by Paul Gordon

Above All Else

Del is a striker on the school soccer team, the Cardinals, which has gone almost three seasons undefeated. To Del, it’s just a game, but some of the players think winning is all that matters. After an in-game altercation with the Cardinals’ main rival, the Rebels, one of Del’s teammates is attacked and seriously injured by an unknown assailant. Is it an act of retaliation or did someone finally take the above-all-else mentality too far?

Above All Else blends on-the-field action and mystery into a fast-paced story that will leave readers with one question: should a team play dirty in order to win?

While the story has some play-by-play soccer descriptions, much of the story revolves around the mystery of who hurt Del’s teammate. The mystery focuses on Del’s perspective, which allows the reader to piece together the clues. In the beginning, Del avoids conflict by staying quiet. However, in the end, he stands up for what he knows is right. Both Del and his teammates learn that “you can lose and walk off the field with your head high.”

Above All Else will appeal to both sports fans and mystery buffs. Written as a part of the Orca Soundings books, which are specifically written for teens, Above All Else is a fast-paced book that explores the idea of winning at all costs. While Above All Else may appeal to younger readers, parents may object to the frequent profanity and name-calling. However, older readers who are reluctant to read will enjoy this high-interest, easy-to-read story.

Sexual Content

  • Riley and Kira start spending time together. She goes to Riley’s soccer game. At halftime, Kira “threw her arms around Riley’s neck and kissed him full on the lips.” After the game, Riley and Kira “were locked in an awkward-looking kiss.”
  • Riley and Kira kiss several more times, but the kisses are not described.

Violence

  • During a soccer game, Rom intentionally hurts a player named Tim. Tim “was almost past Rom when Rom performed a slide tackle, knocking the ball out of bounds and sending Tim flying.” Tim is angry, but not injured.
  • Later in the game, Tim is getting ready to score when “Rom rushed him. Tim went head-on into the challenge, probably thinking he could rotate around Rom at the last second. . . Rom charged and, as Tim began his rotation, jutted his leg out and caught him square on the knee.”
  • After Rom takes down Tim, Tim’s teammates “ran right into Rom and took him down. He managed to get four quick punches in before his own teammates pulled him off . . .”
  • Del and his friend, Riley, find their teammate Rom injured. Riley says, “I just found him here . . .” Rom was “completely out.” Later Rom tells his friends, “Someone came up behind me while I was getting into my car and choked me out.” Rom’s ankle is also badly injured.
  • Del and his friends go into an abandoned mall, looking for the person that they think injured Rom. Del “turned around to find Jared sitting on top of Doug Richards.” After that, there is a lot of chasing, but everyone gets out of the mall without being hurt.
  • Elsa tells Del, “my brother got beat up at the mall the other night.”
  • At a game, Del accidentally crashed into the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper “caught me in the side of the head with a quick sharp punch. . . I tried to stand up to get away from the situation and he kicked me in the gut.”
  • Elsa and Del go back to the abandoned mall and a gang chases them out. When Elsa and Del get in the van, “the guys were banging on the van like wild apes.” When she goes to leave, Elsa runs over someone’s foot.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, bullshit, crappy, damn, hell, piss, and shitty.
  • There are many instances of name-calling, which include asshole, dick, dickhead, idiot, sucker, prick, dillweed, and knobs.
  • Del and his friends are going into an abandoned mall. When Del doesn’t want to go, his friend says, “Grow a pair, Del.”
  • One of the other team’s players yells at Del, “Goddamn dirty players.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Out of Bounds

Makena Walsh absolutely loves soccer. She knows it’s the best sport around, and she feels lucky that the teammates on her super competitive and super skilled team, the Brookville Breakers, feel the same way. The girls always have and always will be soccer sisters.

When a new person joins the Breakers, everything changes. Skyler is a great player and really cool—but she also doesn’t always play by the rules. Makena, hoping to impress Skyler, starts acting out and running wild, off and on the field.

With a huge tournament looming, Makena’s got tough choices ahead–choices that will affect her family, her friends, and the game she loves. Can she stay true to what the soccer sisters believe in and win the big game?

At first, Makena thinks Skyler’s crazy ideas are fun, but soon Skyler’s lies add up, and Makena’s guilt catches up with her. To make matters worse, sneaking out and staying up late is affecting Makena’s game. Soon, Skyler’s behavior doesn’t seem so cool, especially when Skyler uses deception to win. She tells her teammates, “Just remember, when you get hurt, even a little, roll on the ground and act as if your leg is about to fall off. That way you will get the free kick or the penalty kick. Everybody does it.”

Out of Bounds’s play-by-play action will appeal to soccer players and sports lovers. The majority of the action takes place on the field; however, readers will get a glimpse of the crazy things Skyler convinces Makena to do as well as of Makena’s home life. In one scene, the reader will learn about the dangers of smoking through Makena’s grandfather who used to smoke and now has emphysema.

Makena is a relatable character who doesn’t like lying to others, but she struggles with the ability to say no. Because the story is told from her point of view, the reader will understand Makena’s worries. In the end, Makena grows as a character and realizes that “being a star off the field is as big a part of soccer as being a star on the field.” During the last tournament, Makena is able to stand up to Skyler and finally do what’s right, including telling her parents about her bad behavior.

The Soccer Sisters series is written by former soccer player, coach, and motivational speaker Andrea Montalbano. Out of Bounds’s high-interest topic, advanced vocabulary, and short chapters make the story accessible to advanced readers. While the story has relatable conflicts and many positive lessons, the many play-by-play soccer scenes are designed for soccer players and fans. The book ends with one suggested activity, questions, a glossary of soccer terms, and a short biography of Olympian Brandi Chastain. Those who have read Montalbano’s book, Breakaway, will see many similarities in the characters and plot. Out of Bounds is a fast-paced story that will engage soccer fans as it highlights the importance of compassion, sportsmanship, leadership, and following the rules.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used four times. For example, someone says, “Why the heck do we travel all the way to Philadelphia to play a team from nearby?”
  • “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation once.
  • Skyler asks, “Do you think those two guards are going to admit that two girls stole their golf cart and made them look like idiots?”
  • Skyler’s dad said that her old team “was a bunch of losers.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Outcasts United

In the 1990s, the small town of Clarkston, Georgia, became the center for refugee resettlement. The United States government didn’t tell the original residents that soon people from war-torn nations would be settling in the area and trying to navigate a world vastly different than the homes they had come from. When an American-educated, Jordanian woman named Luma Mufleh moves in, she starts a soccer team comprised of refugee kids, hoping to keep them off the streets. They dub themselves “The Fugees.”

Outcasts United tells the true story of one of the Fugees’ seasons, led by dedicated soccer coach Luma. Reporter Warren St. John details the lives of the players and their coach on and off the field as they maneuver through their lives in a town that didn’t see them coming. Their story demonstrates shared humanity and the need for compassion.

Much of the book revolves around Luma’s life. Luma’s old-school coaching methods produce results in her players. St. John captures how much Luma’s players valued her, as she is much more than just a coach to them. Luma consistently helps the boys’ families with daily tasks, especially when English isn’t well-spoken or understood in the households. Despite her tough-love approach to coaching, the players see her as a mentor and someone to be admired.

The boys face serious challenges in their lives, but soccer unites them as brothers. Many of them come from rival nations that carry their own prejudices against each other, and the small southern town in Georgia they now live in certainly carries its own prejudices about the refugees. Despite these differences, Clarkston is a global community. Luma forces the boys to get along or get off the field, and the strategy in unifying Clarkson is not much different – they have to make the situation work. There is no other option.

The sense of community in Outcasts United is striking. Community is built from the ground up, and it requires that everyone makes an attempt to work within it. Luma has built a community through soccer, and the Fugees family still exists today with more teams and schooling opportunities. Luma could not have done this work without compassion—compassion for the refugee families in Clarkson and for the community that they were trying to build. Through that compassion and through soccer, they have created something truly beautiful.

Outcasts United is inspiring because of the work that Luma and her Fugees put forth. Despite their trials, they’re a team that wants nothing more than to live their lives and play soccer. Although soccer fans will be the main target audience of this book, this true story is moving for anyone interested in themes of compassion and community through sports.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Some of the players on the team are refugees, and they have experienced “the horrors of war. There were Sudanese players on the team whose villages had been bombed, and Liberians who’d lived through mortar fire that pierced the roofs of their neighbors’ homes, taking out whole families.” One boy “had been forced by soldiers to shoot a close friend.”
  • Descriptions of violence and death are present throughout the book. The players’ stories are revealed, detailing the histories of war-torn nations. In Liberia, one group’s “force grew quickly, in no small part augmented by boys whom [Charles Taylor] armed and drugged into a killing frenzy. Some of these boy soldiers were orphans whose parents had been killed . . . others were kidnapped from their families by Taylor’s own militias . . . Soldiers terrorized citizens and looted at will . . . More than one hundred and fifty thousand Liberians died.”
  • One morning a player is shot at a practice, and “the exact circumstances of the shooting were murky.” It is made clear that gang activity caused it and one of Luma’s players, unfortunately, got caught in the crossfire. He survives.
  • There is a lot of discussion about gangs and gang activity throughout the book, and Luma does her best to deter the boys from joining.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Former president of Liberia and convicted war criminal, Charles Taylor, was captured on the Nigeria-Cameroon border “in an SUV stashed with cash and heroin.”

Language

  • Xenophobia is littered throughout the book. The old residents of Clarkston, Georgia often make it clear that they don’t like the refugees or Luma, who is Jordanian. At one point, Luma is pulled over for a broken taillight on the way to a soccer match and the police cuff her and keep her overnight in jail “just in case.” It is expressed here and elsewhere that Luma and the others know that this isn’t normal protocol for a broken taillight, and it is in no way an isolated situation in the book.
  • The refugees also have their own baggage, which Luma discovers. Luma says, “The Afghan and Iraqi kids would look down on the African kids, and the kids from northern Africa would look down on kids from other parts of Africa.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Luma is from Jordan, which is under “Sharia law, which applies to domestic and inheritance matters, the testimony of two women carried the weight of that one man. A wife had to obtain permission from her husband to apply for a passport. And so-called honor killings were still viewed as minor crimes in Sharia courts.” It is also stated that Luma is Muslim.
  • Places of worship are sometimes mentioned in town. For instance, “A mosque opened up on Indian Creek Drive” in Clarkston, Georgia, where Luma’s soccer team was based.
  • In Clarkston, “a third of the students at the local elementary school skip lunch during Ramadan. Attendance at the old Clarkston Baptist Church dwindled from around seven hundred to fewer than a hundred.”
  • Assistant coordinator Tracy Ediger, growing up with her sisters, “attended church three times a week, rarely watched television, and had each enrolled at Christian colleges after high school.”
  • One of the refugees that Luma meets, says, “God very, very good.”
  • Before a game, the team prays together, but not everyone practices the same religion. To remedy this, “Grace would offer a Christian prayer; Eldin, a Muslim one. The boys formed a circle at midfield, draped their arms around each other, and bowed their heads.”

by Alli Kestler

The Breakaways

Shy fifth-grader, Faith, has never played soccer. When popular girl, Amanda, invites her to join her soccer team, Faith figures that it’s an opportunity to make friends. There’s just one problem: when Faith arrives at practice, she finds out that Amanda is on the best team, while she is on the C team—the worst team. Faith finds herself stranded on a ragtag team where it seems like no one is interested in playing soccer, and many of the players aren’t interested in being friends with each other.

The Breakaways is a graphic novel that follows Faith and her teammates as they navigate middle school, their relationships, and soccer. The story concept is unique and funny as it is an inversion of the standard sports story. Unlike most sports books, Faith and her teammates aren’t serious about their sports, and they don’t strive to be great. The characters in The Breakaways aren’t good at soccer, but they discover that their friendships don’t rest on wins or losses. Many of the players even bond over their dislike for the sport, showing that their lives are much more than the sport that they play.

The Breakaways has a diverse cast of characters and several characters are LGBTQ+. This includes Faith, who is bisexual, and Sammy, who comes out as trans. There is also an array of cultural differences in the characters. For instance, Yarelis and her mom have a conversation in Spanish, and Nadia wears a hijab. The diverse characters make the story relatable for readers who don’t otherwise feel represented in literature. Johnson creates an inclusive environment for the team and for the readers as well.

Despite the diversity and the fun concept, the book feels too short, as none of the characters have a well-developed individual story. Some characters, like Yarelis, get only a couple of pages, and then their stories stop abruptly. Some pages are dedicated to scenes that aren’t expanded upon. For instance, Faith has daydream sequences where she envisions herself as a young knight on a quest. Although these scenes and the rest of the book are beautifully illustrated, these sequences don’t seem to add anything to the plot and are never really addressed outside Faith’s imagination.

The Breakaways discusses themes of friendship and acceptance through this ragtag soccer team. Despite joining for a variety of reasons, the players come together and try to make their experience fun. Even though the characters’ stories are cut short, the overall message is about learning how to make the best of a bad situation. For a reader searching for an empowering and feel-good book, look no further.

 Sexual Content

  • Sodacan tells Faith, “I saw you looking at Molly’s bra today.” Faith is flustered.
  • Jennifer tells Molly, “I’m gonna hit on Jalissa’s brother today.”
  • Molly and Jennifer argue about Marcus, the boy they both like, during a soccer game.
  • In one illustrated panel, Molly kisses Marcus on the cheek.
  • Marie likes Sammy and admits her feelings one night. Sammy, another member of the team, comes out as trans. He says, “I think I’m a boy.” They briefly discuss it, then they kiss because they like each other.
  • One player, Zoe, asks Faith, “Do you like boys?” Faith responds, “I don’t know who I like. Maybe boys. Maybe girls.” She then talks about her aunt who “lives with her wife in New York.”
  • Zoe admits that she is attracted to girls.
  • Zoe compliments Yarelis’s ability on the bass, and it seems like flirting. Yarelis blushes in the next panel.
  • Sammy tells Sodacan that he’s a boy. Sodacan doesn’t understand, and Marie says, “He’s trans.” Sammy explains further and says, “It means when I was born, the doctors said I was a girl, but I’m actually a boy.”
  • Marie and Sammy are dating.

Violence

  • Sodacan claps Faith on the back in a friendly way.
  • After they discuss Yarelis joining their band, Yarelis hits Sodacan’s head with a vinyl sticker.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Marie says of another player, “Miss Prissy is too good for us dogs!” Other terms like goody two-shoes are also used often.
  • Two players are called Bulldog (Molly) and Warthog (Jennifer). It is implied that they do not know about these nicknames.
  • Rude language is used frequently by the teens. Rude language includes: dumb, stupid, turd, shut up, crazy, fool, suck, dweeb, nerd, crappy, and losers.
  • Molly and Jennifer pick on Faith because her name sounds like fart. When another player defends Faith, Jennifer tells Sodacan, “You’re such a pig.”
  • Marie asks Sodacan why she’s sticking up for “that baby” when talking about Faith.
  • One player jokes that the team sucks and people laugh. Molly makes the same joke, and Coach makes the team run laps. Molly says, “What? Sammy does it and it’s okay? Only tiny girls get to be rude?”
  • Jennifer rejects a car ride from a classmate on the way to school. He calls her, “Ugly, trashy Warthog.”
  • Marie and Sodacan make up. Marie says, “I should hit you, though. You deserve it. You are sorta a jerk.” Sodacan replies, “You are too. We’re sorta jerks together. That’s our thing.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Jennifer gets mad at Molly after her remark causes the team to run laps. Jennifer says, “God, Bulldog.” Another player yells, “Oh my God” in frustration during practice.
  • One player, Nadia, wears a hijab.

by Alli Kestler

Breakaway

Twelve-year-old Lily knows her place in the world is on the soccer field. When she’s out there scoring goals, everything’s right. Lately, though, her competitive spirit has been getting the best of her, and she begins to alienate all of her friends. Tabitha, a popular girl who spends most of her time on the bench, would give anything for Lily’s confidence and ability on the soccer field. Meanwhile, Lily secretly admires Tabitha’s world of money and friends. When it’s Lily on the bench instead of Tabitha, she figures out a few things she never expected and realizes that sometimes it takes more skill to make others look good instead of yourself.

Lily clearly loves soccer, but she is often overconfident and has a difficult time controlling her anger. Lily tells her own story in Breakaway, which allows the reader to follow Lily’s thought process and understand her emotions. When Lily isn’t picked up for a select team, she gets angry at her best friend, Vee, who makes the team. Lily is overcome with jealousy and also “was developing a long laundry list of people to blame.” Lily believes that she is the best player on the team, and others should recognize her skill. When Lily is suspended from the team, she has a hard time taking responsibility for her actions. It isn’t until the end that she realizes, “I can tell you all the talent in the world is wasted if you think you can do it all alone. No one can. The world doesn’t work like that. Families don’t work like that, friendships don’t work like that and I’m pretty sure soccer teams don’t work like that either.”

Even though Lily’s family life is interspersed in the story, the long descriptions of soccer make the story best for soccer fans. The fast-paced story teaches many lessons about sportsmanship as well as the importance of taking responsibility for your actions. Lily’s parents are another positive aspect of the story. They are interesting, unique, and demonstrate healthy family relationships. Her parents don’t expect her to be perfect. Instead, Lily’s father tells her, “You can’t erase your mistakes, LJ. You can make up for them and you can make sure not to repeat them, but you can’t just will them to disappear.”

Breakaway combines soccer and family into a fast-paced story that teaches positive lessons. The story’s advanced vocabulary and the large cast of characters makes Breakaway best for proficient readers. Soccer fans may also want to read the other books in Montalbano’s series, Soccer Sisters. As a former soccer player, coach, and motivational speaker, Montalbano creates an entertaining story about soccer, friendship and family.

  Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • During the soccer games, there are some players that use illegal moves. For example, during a game, “Lily trapped the ball with her thigh and turned to shoot, but something caught her foot, and instead of making contact she fell straight to the ground, getting a mouth full of dirt… She had been tripped.”
  • During a game, “a Rockets defender shoved Vee from behind, knocking her flat and stealing the ball.”
  • When some boys are being mean to Lily and Vee, Lily gets angry. “Before Griffin could say another word, Lily tossed her ball up and volleyed it directly at his head. It flew like a rocket, and he ducked just a millisecond before the ball would have hit him like a missile, stumbling to the ground and smacking his hands hard on the pavement.”
  • To stop Vee, a player “brought her down from behind. Could have broken her ankle or wrecked her knee.”
  • During a game, the other team began “taking cheap shots… Reese was knocked down at midfield.” Later, “The sweeper grabbed at Tabitha’s arm. She grabbed her uniform. Tabitha tried to get the shot off, but it was too late: the defender grabbed her from behind and pulled her to the ground.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • At dinner, Lily’s father “took an unusually large gulp of wine.” Later, her father “took another large sip of wine.”

Language

  • Darn is used twice. When Lily’s aunt was late, she said, “the darn car wouldn’t start.”
  • Jerks is used three times. Some of the characters refer to others as jerks or call them jerks.
  • Vee is upset that Lily went to Tabitha’s house. Vee says, “Oh, like the queen of Brookville would ever have a Lakewood loser like me over to her house.”
  • Crap is used once.

Supernatural

  • Lily’s grandfather calls her “brutta,” which means ugly in Italian. “It was an old Sicilian fear that if you talked too much about the beauty of a child, particularly a girl child, then the gods would come and take her away.”

Spiritual Content

  • When Lily throws a ball at a boy, it “slammed into the big glass yellow H hanging in front of the Heritage sports bar… Oh please, don’t let it fall, Lily prayed to herself.”
  • Lily goes to a friend’s house, and a group of boys are playing video games. Lily “prayed they would stay interested in the game.”
  • When Lily has to clean her father’s restaurant’s windows, she “lifted the squeegee and got to work, praying no one she knew would walk by.”

Soccer Stand-Off

Ethan is pumped for soccer this year. Since he is an eighth-grader, he’ll definitely be placed on the starting lineup. However, a startling discovery is waiting for Ethan on the soccer field. On the first day of tryouts, he learns that his soccer coach is his least favorite teacher, Ms. Brezinka. She taught him science last year–a subject he almost failed. Suddenly, Ethan’s take on the new season has gone from excitement to dread. What does a woman know about coaching a boys’ soccer team?

Although a few boys decided to quit the team, Ethan and his friend, Malik, stay. Ethan slacks off during tryouts though, landing him a spot on defense. Despite Malik’s constant defense of Ms. B and Ethan’s mom’s lectures about how “women often have to work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously as men,” Ethan can’t seem to fix his attitude. Finally, after he and Malik get into a fight that lands Ethan a detention and an indefinite grounding, Ethan realizes he is acting selfishly. He confesses to Ms. B that he was embarrassed about doing so poorly in her science class, so he convinced himself into believing she was the problem with the soccer team instead of himself. Ms. B gives him a clean slate, and Ethan starts to play as a member of the team. Although it takes his teammates a while to accept him back, the team eventually turns into a well-oiled machine that wins their first game.

Soccer Stand-Off focuses on Ethan’s inner conflict of being embarrassed about almost failing Ms. B’s class and lashing out. The story is told from Ethan’s perspective, so he is the only one that undergoes character development. Ethan usually feels pangs of guilt when he says something hurtful, making him a frustrating but relatable character. The story is realistic in that it takes Ethan a while to realize the mistakes he is making. After realizing he was wrong for believing a woman couldn’t coach a boys’ soccer team, he learns to play as part of the team instead of only serving himself on the field.

In addition to his internal conflict, Soccer Stand-Off also focuses on Ethan’s conflict with his mom, Malik, and Ms. B. He has friends who oppose Ms. B’s coaching of the boys’ soccer team as well as friends who support Ms. B. Malik’s constant defense of Ms. B is what finally gets through to Ethan. He bravely stands up to the boys who quit the team and apologizes to Ms. B, Malik, and the rest of the team for acting selfishly.

Soccer Stand-Off is part of the Jake Maddox JV series, a series of standalone sports books. It has a simple plot and is separated into short, easy-to-read chapters, making it good for reluctant readers. Discussion questions, writing prompts, soccer terms, and a glossary are included in the back of the book. The book describes a few soccer practices and one soccer game in detail, but the book isn’t overloaded with soccer scenes. Instead, it focuses on the morals Ethan learns. Soccer Stand-Off teaches readers this important lesson: when you have a problem, look at the way you’re behaving before blaming someone else.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When he makes the team, Ethan is upset he is in a defensive position instead of a starting position. Jerome, the team captain, tells Ethan he wasn’t even trying at practice. Angry, Ethan “charged up behind Jerome and shoved him, almost knocking him down… [Jerome] shoved Ethan back.”
  • Ethan and Malik get into an argument over how well they think Ms. B can coach the boys’ soccer team. When Malik defends Ms. B, Ethan tells him Ms. B is “the only one who would be dumb enough to start you.” This causes Malik to “charge at Ethan” and “knock him to the floor.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Jerk is used frequently. For example, the characters say Ethan is “playing like a jerk” and “acting like a jerk.”
  • When Ethan’s friend, Jacob, doesn’t show up to practice, Ethan texts Jacob, “What the heck is going on?”
  • Upset that last year’s soccer coach is replaced with a female science teacher, Ethan says, “Now we’re stuck with this demon woman.”
  • One of the players on the boys’ soccer team says, “This is bull,” when he finds out the new coach is a woman.
  • Jerome tells Ethan his position is attacking midfielder for their first game. When Ethan thanks him for getting him off defense, Jerome responds, “It’s totally [Ms. B’s] call. I still think you’re an idiot.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jill Johnson

 

Running with Lions

Sebastian Hughes is excited to start his senior high school soccer season. He’s the starting goalkeeper on his soccer team. His best friends, Mason and Willie, are also on the team. The three friends go to summer training camp where Coach Patrick welcomes everybody, regardless of sexual orientation.

Everything would be great, except Sebastian’s estranged childhood friend, Emir Shah, shows up at camp. Emir’s prickly personality makes team cohesiveness difficult. Sebastian realizes the team’s success may end up in the hands of the one guy who hates him. For the team’s sake, Sebastian reaches out to Emir. When Sebastian finally breaks through the initial barrier, he discovers that he and Emir’s friendship might evolve into something much more romantic.

Running with Lions has diverse characters, and the book tackles ideas about teamwork, friendship, and sexuality. For instance, Sebastian is bisexual and Emir is gay. Emir is also British Pakistani and sometimes talks about his experiences being Muslim. Many of the other characters have equally diverse backstories, but their stories aren’t fully fleshed out. Despite their differences, Sebastian’s teammates have a strong sense of camaraderie and loyalty, especially in the face of adversity from outside forces.

Despite the diverse characters, the plot is somewhat flat. The story primarily focuses on Sebastian and Emir’s budding relationship, and sometimes their relationship takes the focus off of soccer. Although the plot builds up to the first big soccer game after camp, it’s a slow climb to reach that point. The story and dialogue sometimes come off as choppy, cheesy, cliché, and occasionally confusing.

For soccer players, Running with Lions may be difficult to read because the soccer terminology is incorrect. For instance, Sebastian was “head-butting the ball to Zach,” when it should be “heading.” In addition, the Coach yells for “plays” to be run during a game when scripted plays don’t happen in soccer. These details make the action and the soccer camp setting unrealistic.

Although Running with Lions tackles important ideas about sexuality and friendship, soccer fans will find the incorrect soccer facts, the slow plot, and occasionally clichéd writing frustrating. Despite the diverse cast, Running with Lions may be one book readers leave on the library shelf. If you’re looking for a sports book with a diverse cast, look to Jason Reynolds’ Defenders Track Team series instead.

Sexual Content

  • Sebastian’s mom helps him pack for soccer camp. When checking his items, she says, “And you’re at that age where if you need condoms…”
  • When his mom mentions condoms, Sebastian is embarrassed and thinks, “It’s as bad as that time she caught [Sebastian] kissing Julie Hammonds in eighth grade.”
  • When Sebastian’s mom brings up another girl that Sebastian was seeing, Sebastian doesn’t want to tell his parents he’s bisexual.
  • Mason, Sebastian’s teammate and friend, pulls up to Sebastian’s house to pick him up for camp. Mason tells Sebastian’s mom, “You’re looking lovely this morning.” It is later explained that Mason flirts with anything that has a heartbeat.
  • In the car, Mason, Sebastian, and another teammate, Willie, talk about their plans for after high school. They mention seeing a professional soccer team overseas. Willie says he’d also “Hook up with a few babes over in Barcelona.”
  • Mason, Sebastian, and Willie also talk about Mason’s sexual exploits. For instance, Sebastian explains, “Mason flirted and got one guy on the swim team’s number.” Mason also “hooked up with [Miguel, Willie’s friend] at Carl’s last party.”
  • Willie says to Mason, “I suck face better than I cook.”
  • According to Sebastian, “Rumor was, Coach’s nephew Xander went to one of those blazer-and-tie Catholic schools and got kicked off the baseball team when he came out. Coach decided to change the system: sexuality in sports became a non-factor. Whom you were attracted to off the field didn’t matter.”
  • Sebastian also explains that, “No one cared when Willie came out, because he was the best defensive player they had. Mason’s make-out session with Miguel was forgotten the following Monday.”
  • Masturbation jokes occur often, especially with Willie. For example, when Willie and Sebastian get to their cabin, they realize that they have some free time before the first practice. Willie is then “making a suggestive motion with his hand. ‘Do you need a little alone time?’”
  • Sebastian thinks, “For a gay guy, Willie’s maintained a ridiculous crush on Mason’s ex-girlfriend.” Phrases like this and “the gays approve” sometimes occur.
  • During punishment laps at the first training, Coach Patrick yells, “How does one pack of lions suck this bad? What did you all do during the off-season?” Mason replies, “Well, I didn’t suck anyone.” Sexual jokes continue frequently throughout the book.
  • When the boys see Emir, a new kid who has never played, they talk about him. One player says that he won’t help Emir since Emir isn’t nice at school. Hunter, another player, responds with, “Have you tried talking to him? Or is that something you’re just sorry at, like picking up women?”
  • There is a page-long dinner scene where the players discuss their romantic relationships. One player asks Mason, “So you and Val aren’t hooking up this year?” Another replies jokingly, “He’s saving himself for Coach’s daughter, remember?”
  • Coach’s stepdaughter, Grey, is introduced as the person with “a pretty gnarly crush” on Mason. Throughout the book, she openly flirts with Mason.
  • Sebastian talks to Grey about her crush, and Sebastian thinks of his own past crushes. He thinks, “He hasn’t crushed on anyone since he was like, eleven? He met Sam at a party, they exchanged numbers and made out at a movie, and that was it.”
  • At breakfast, Mason calls Sebastian “a boring virgin.” Sebastian replies, “I’m not a virgin, dickhead.” Mason responds, “Oh, that’s right. Just with guys, correct?”
  • Coach Rivera yells at one of the players. Coach says, “Where’s your form?” The player replies, “At your wife’s house.” Coach Rivera responds, “My husband would appreciate it if you picked your crap up one of these days.”
  • Sebastian is attracted to Emir. Often, he fantasizes about what romantic/sexual things he and Emir could be doing. These daydreams range in graphic nature. For instance, he finds himself staring at “Emir’s pink, very kissable lips.” At another point, Sebastian has the urge to “toss Emir on the bed for a wrestling match. But that could lead to—no, would lead to—something involving a lot less clothing.”
  • During Sebastian and Emir’s training sessions, Sebastian breaks personal space. When trying to teach Emir form, Sebastian “fits his arms around Emir’s lean frame; his hands smooth Emir’s waist.” These moments lead to Emir commenting, “I can’t relax with your junk against my bum, mate” and “I usually don’t mix stupid sports and sex.” Sebastian often makes references to others’ genitalia.
  • Two boys are fast asleep in bed, and it is insinuated later that they might be having a fling. Sebastian sees them and describes, “Willie’s face is mashed in Hunter’s neck. Hunter’s fingers are twisted in Willie’s hair; their lower halves are tangled.”
  • Sebastian says that Zach didn’t get a girl’s number because she heard that Zach was “a virgin.” Zach declares, “I get plenty of tail.” This conversation continues for a couple of pages.
  • When training by themselves, “Sebastian kisses [Emir]. It’s so quick, their mouths just smack.” Sebastian thinks, “…this isn’t a real kiss, where you’re lightheaded afterward or shoving your tongue down a hot guy’s mouth to taste the flavor of his gum.”
  • Emir and Sebastian kiss, and the description lasts for a couple of pages. Sebastian describes, “Emir pushes as much as Sebastian pulls. It’s needy. Wet mouths move as if there’s not a second to lose. They’ll never be able to dance around this kiss… He grabs Emir’s hoodie and drags him closer. His thigh fits between them, and Emir uses it like a cat rubbing against a post to scratch an itch.”
  • Emir and Sebastian become sexually intimate, and Sebastian narrates, “He doesn’t know if that’s how fooling around with another guy is supposed to be, but it’s a good start.” The description goes on for four pages. Sebastian “drops kisses under Emir’s jaw. Sebastian waits. Emir chokes back a gasp, and then Sebastian’s fingers dig roughly into Emir’s hips, lifting him up in one quick motion. He pushes Emir against the closest wall… Sebastian’s hips meet Emir’s. He worries Emir might not want that, but the soft hitch in Emir’s voice counters those concerns.”
  • Mason accidentally reveals that Willie has had a crush on Sebastian for a long time. Mason jokes about how he doesn’t understand why Willie would like Sebastian, and “with his head bent uncomfortably close to Sebastian’s crotch, he says, ‘Are you hiding something amazing in your jockstrap, Hughes?’” Mason then proceeds to say, “I’ve seen it, bro. In the shower. You’ve got Thor’s hammer down there.”
  • Sebastian and Emir go skinny dipping. When Emir blushes, Sebastian says, “It’s not like you haven’t seen me naked before.”
  • Emir and Sebastian kiss while skinny-dipping in the lake. Sebastian describes, “The kiss isn’t frantic, but it’s feverish. Emir’s hands are on his shoulders. Sebastian’s mouth parts, gasping, teased by Emir’s tongue. It’s thrilling and purposeful, and Sebastian’s heart is erratic.” The description lasts for a page.
  • After skinny-dipping, Emir and Sebastian shower together. They kiss. Sebastian “goes for broke, curls a finger under Emir’s chin, and angles his face so he can plant a soft peck on Emir’s mouth. Emir kisses back.”
  • Sebastian briefly mentions that one morning, he “let Emir drag him to bed for morning kisses. Sebastian’s fumbling hands highlighted his lack of sexual experience with boys, but Emir didn’t seem to mind at all.”
  • When the band The 1975 comes on in Mason’s car, Sebastian explains to Emir that, “Mace would totally suck face with Matt Healy if he could.”
  • Sebastian explains that there’s an old drive-in movie place in Oakville, and that “during the week, no one shows up except the slackers, elderly folks, and horny parents searching for somewhere to, well.”
  • At the drive-in, “a man older than Sebastian’s dad emerges from a rusty Cadillac. He grins smugly with a hand firmly pressed to his wife’s ass. Sebastian hopes that’s his wife.”
  • Sebastian and Emir get intimate at the drive-in, though Sebastian explains that, “All their fooling around has never quite gone there.” Sebastian also narrates, “Emir crawls—climbs into Sebastian’s lap… Emir is balanced on knees that pin Sebastian’s hips. His left hand cradles the back of Sebastian’s head. A soft sigh breaks his lips, inches from Sebastian’s as he lowers his hips.”
  • Sebastian asks Emir if he’s ever had sex with a guy, and Emir says, “Yes.”
  • Willie says that Mason got playing time years ago because “we had three players out with mono thanks to the lovely Cara Beckman,” who is a cheerleader with “a thing for athletes.”
  • Sebastian thinks about his relationship with Sam. He thinks, “Sam made the first move on him. Sam told him she was his girlfriend. Sam said, ‘I love you’ first, words she didn’t mean. Sam broke up with him. First by text and then in person.”
  • Emir breaks into Sebastian’s room. Sebastian realizes that Emir is wearing Sebastian’s jersey and that Emir doesn’t care what their teammates think. Sebastian thinks, “that threatens to make Sebastian get on one knee for more than one reason.” The innuendo is not explained further.
  • Emir and Sebastian have sex. The buildup is described, but the sex is not. Sebastian narrates, “They kiss. It takes them a moment to find a rhythm between mouths and bodies. Emir’s hand is flat against Sebastian’s chest. Sebastian has fingers in Emir’s hair… [Sebastian] tenses trying to figure out the condom.” This buildup lasts for five pages.
  • Willie passes out water in the locker room, and Sebastian takes one. Willie says to Sebastian, “Don’t choke,” when Sebastian cracks the top and guzzles as if he’s been in the desert. He adds a rude gesture that Sebastian supposes is a reference to oral sex.
  • Carl badmouths Emir in the locker room. When Sebastian won’t agree with Carl, Carl says, “Sounds like [Emir’s] got a stick up you.”
  • Grey challenges Mason to a one-on-one scrimmage, and the first to score gets to pick their prize. Grey says, “If I win, we go on a date.”
  • Mason and Willie juggle soccer balls and mock each other. Mason says to him, “I thought you played with balls in your spare time? You suck!” Willie replies, “I get no complaints about the way I handle balls, thank you.”
  • Mason tells Willie and Sebastian, “I want to ask [Grey] out.”
  • At the hospital, Sebastian discovers that “Hunter and Willie are boyfriends now.”
  • Sebastian “kisses Emir” on the soccer field.

Violence

  • Players sometimes get injured in soccer. For instance, one player runs Emir over during a game, and “Emir’s folded up on the grass.”
  • Emir is rude to Sebastian. Sebastian thinks about how he wants “to shout, ‘What the hell?’ or punch Emir or walk away.”
  • Sebastian asks Grey if she’s wearing eyeliner at dinner one night. Grey “kicks his shin under the table.”
  • Sebastian thinks about how in freshman gym, he “nailed Carl during a friendly baseball game. Carl rolled around the field for half an hour, claiming a dislocated shoulder.”
  • Sebastian “imagines his knuckles bloody and Carl laid out on the cement” when Carl harasses Sebastian and Emir.
  • After an argument with Carl, Sebastian “turns, rolls his shoulders, and then slams his fist into a locker door.”
  • When Grey challenges Mason to a match, Gio says, “Twenty [bucks] says coach murders [Mason] and dumps the body in the lake.” Sebastian “bets [Grey’ll] kick Mason in the junk.”
  • Coach makes Sebastian captain. When Mason and Willie find out, they dogpile Sebastian in celebration. “Mason’s elbow jams his ribs. Willie knees him in the thigh.”
  • Sebastian tells Willie and Mason that he messed up his chance with Emir. Mason responds with, “Do you want me to rough him up?”
  • Hunter gives Sebastian love advice and then ends it with, “And if you ever tell Will about this, I’m gonna use your testicles for keepie-uppies practice.”
  • The other team makes homophobic remarks. Zach says, “They’re family, and I’ll whale on any of you prep pussies that messes with ’em, okay?” He turns to Emir and Hunter and says, “I’ve been wanting to deck one of those shitheads since I was a frosh.”
  • Zach, Emir, and Hunter playfight in the locker room. “Zach drags Emir into a headlock. Emir playfully fights back though Zach’s size overpowers him. Hunter joins them, jumping on Zach’s back. They all stumble into the locker room with a thud.”
  • Two players “are engaged in a furious game of bloody knuckles.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mason smokes a cigarette on the drive to camp.
  • Sebastian describes one spot at camp where “Guys use the picnic area to sneak cigarettes at night.”
  • Emir has “a half-burnt cigarette” one night.
  • On the weekends, “the seniors usually sneak in cheap beer or rum” to camp. The boys do drink and get drunk during the book. Sebastian carries one of the players, Zach, back to his cabin because Zach is drunk. Zach declares, “I’m not wasted.”
  • Zach “grins, arms stuffed with cheap beer. ‘Brews and tunes, dudes.’”
  • Sebastian says he saved Mason from getting “locked up two years ago for possession of greenery,” or marijuana.
  • Sebastian “was so done with Sam’s shit, he had a healthy hit off Mason’s joint, coughing violently before mellowing out with vodka.”
  • Zach has “a chain-smoking father.”
  • The guy working at the drive-in concession stand says, “I’ve got half a joint out back that I’m dying to finish. Can you guys order already?”
  • Willie tells a story about “that time [Sebastian] drank too many wine coolers and took a dare to do keepie-uppies naked.”
  • Once, Sebastian and Mason were “playing drunk Scrabble in a cemetery.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes asshole, hell, hellions, shit, ass, douchebag, dickhead, dick, whore, and bastard.
  • Mason flips off Sebastian as he runs past. The middle finger is used occasionally.
  • One player swears at his teammates in Italian. For example, he says, “Vete al infierno” which means “go to hell.” He also says, “Que mierda,” but no English translation is given.
  • Sebastian “nods like a happy stoner” at Emir’s comment. Variations of this expression are used throughout.
  • During an argument, Sebastian says, “Fuck you.” Carl replies, “Yeah, fuck you too, Hughes.”
  • The opposing team makes homophobic remarks towards Sebastian’s team, including, “Did you know you play for a team of homos?” and “You pack of faggots.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Mason keeps joking about camp being hell. Willie says, “This place is a sanctuary. A no-man’s-land, dude. Sacred.”
  • Sebastian mentions that Coach Rivera is “a devout Catholic and often calls on his religion.” Coach Rivera will sometimes say, “Que Dios nos ayude,” or “God help us.”
  • Sometimes characters will say things like, “Well, thank baby Jesus” or “Christ.”
  • Emir is Muslim and tells Sebastian that he prays “Fajr, the dawn prayer.”
  • One player calls Hunter a “Jesus freak,” and Hunter replies, “Let’s hope God blesses me not to humiliate your sorry ass all over the field today. Amen.”
  • Emir talks about how one of the freshmen dropped when he had to room with Emir because “Rooming with a Muslim offended his family.” Emir expresses that he’s dealt with discrimination his entire life.
  • Emir explains to Sebastian that he was praying “Isha’a…the last of the salats, daily prayers.” Sebastian remembers “the adults in Emir’s family fasting during Ramadan and a small backyard gathering to celebrate a feast day Sebastian can’t remember the name of, but he recalls the beautiful clothing, the music, and Emir’s parents passing out gifts to the children.”
  • Sebastian thinks about how he’s “heard of the coaches who refuse to look Coach Patrick in the eye and the parents and faculty who call Coach ‘a supporter of sinners who’ll burn in hell.’”

by Alli Kestler

Benchwarmers

Jeff and Andi, both sixth-graders at Merion Middle School, are trying out for the boys’ soccer team. There is just one issue: Andi is a girl, and the head coach, Coach J, thinks having a girl on the team would lower the boys’ moral. The principal forces Coach J to let Andi try out. But, Coach J, who has the final say on who makes the team, cuts Andi despite her more than competent tryout.

Both Andi and Jeff are furious because of the coach’s decision. Jeff made the team, but he knows Andi would be an asset to the team. The situation seems hopeless until he has an idea. His dad works at NBC Sports-Philadelphia as a reporter. Together, Andi, Jeff, and his dad devise a plan to get the media involved in Andi’s situation. They hope to pressure Coach J into letting Andi on the team. They were right; Andi is finally allowed to play soccer on the boys’ team.

It’s not smooth sailing once Andi makes the team. Coach J punishes both Andi and Jeff by benching them during games. There is a division on the team between the boys who think Andi should be included and those who don’t. This division costs the team the first few games of the season. When Andi makes a good play in the short amount of time she is on the field, Coach J realizes he is making a mistake. He learns to value Andi as a skilled player and eventually promotes her to a starter. By reluctantly acknowledging Andi’s skill, Coach J sets an example for the rest of the team. The boys come to appreciate Andi and they become a strong and cohesive team.

Benchwarmers is told in third person and focuses on Jeff, Andi, and Coach J’s points of view. This allows readers to understand each character’s background. Each character has to overcome adversities. For example, Jeff has to work hard to improves his soccer skills. Andi fights for her place on the team, taking a lot of bullying but eventually becoming a valued player. Coach J overcomes his chauvinistic beliefs and learns to appreciate Andi.

 Benchwarmers’ main theme is doing what is best for the team. Andi is such a good player because she “creates chances for other people.” In addition, the team only starts winning games when they play to each other’s strengths. By the end of the book, good sportsmanship is important to all of the players. The boys support each other and Andi on the field. Even the opposing teams apologize for roughhousing Andi and compliment her skill.

While Benchwarmers focuses on soccer, the story also gives a good, age-appropriate insight on how the media works. It shows how a media story is approved, planned, and rehearsed. Learning about the media is interesting, but the many meticulous play-by-play game scenes might get old to readers who are not soccer fans. However, the characters are relatable and admirable for their perseverance and for supporting one another. Andi and Jeff work hard to prove themselves on the field. At the beginning, Coach J is stuck in his ways, but he redeems himself by the end. Although slightly dragged out, Benchwarmers will entertain soccer fans as it encourages them to work hard for what they believe.

Sexual Content

  • O’Shea, a female soccer player from another school, takes Andi aside after their match to warn Andi about the next team they’ll play, King of Prussia-North. O’Shea says King of Prussia-North’s coach doesn’t like girls on the boys’ soccer team, and he “makes your guy [Andi’s coach] look like a leader of the Me Too movement.”
  • After Andi asks Jeff to the Halloween dance, she “gave him a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek.”

Violence

  • During practice, Andi gets hit after scoring a goal. “Arlow, peeling back too late, slammed into [Andi] from behind and took her down.” Jeff and Diskin, another teammate, are furious because they think Arlow did it on purpose. One of the players “slammed into Arlow and sent him flying.”
  • Diskin “jabs a finger into Arlow’s chest.” Diskin asks, “What is your problem, Arlow? Do you have something against girls? Is that it? Just admit it.” In response, Arlow “grabs Diskin’s arm and tries to wrestle him to the ground.”
  • During a match, Andi gets kicked in the head by another player. “She felt a foot slam into her head. She cried out in pain and rolled over, holding the spot where the kick had landed.”
  • A player from the opposing team “piles into” Andi, making her do a “face-plant.” She sees someone running towards the guy who had just taken her down and realizes it’s Arlow. “[Arlow] was screaming angrily as he pushed the guy down and began swinging at him.”
  • During a soccer game, Jeff “slid a pass forward to Arlow, who pushed the ball to his left to Andi just as a KP-North defender plowed into him.” Jeff “went down” but “jumped up” and continued playing in the game.
  • Jeff sees a player from the opposing team angrily rush towards Andi. Realizing the player intended to harm her, Jeff “cut the kid off with a diving tackle before he could pile into Andi.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • The boys debate over whether Andi should be on the soccer team. One player says if Andi wants to be on a team with boys, she has to understand she may get knocked around. Another player who supports Andi retorts, “Don’t be such a tool.”
  • After Coach J is rude to Andi, Jeff tries to comfort her. Jeff says, “Just when you think he’s backing off acting like a jerk, he goes and proves again that he’s a jerk. Don’t let it bother you.”
  • Heck is used three times. For example, Andi is upset because Coach J is bullying her. She takes it because she wants to remain on the team. “The worst part of it is, if I just say ‘The heck with you,’ and walk away from this team, he gets what he wants.”
  • During a match, one of the players on the opposing team takes down Andi. Craig yells at him, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
  • In regards to King of Prussia-North, another middle school female soccer player tells Andi, “I’d love to see you knock those jerks off their pedestal.”
  • Jeff wants to ask Andi to the Halloween dance, but he is nervous. His friend tells him, “You can still be Prince Charming if you get off your butt and do something.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Jeff asks Andi if she is going to church Sunday morning because he wants to take her to an Eagle’s game. Andi laughs and replies, “My parents tried it with my brothers and me until I was about eight. Then they figured out we were all going just for the doughnuts. So we haven’t gone for a while.”

by Jill Johnson

Pedro’s Big Goal

Coach Rush is choosing a goalie for the next big soccer match. Pedro wants the job, but he’s worried he’s too slow and too small. There’s only one thing to do—practice! Will Pedro meet his big goal?

Pedro doesn’t have the skills he needs to be a goalie, but he practices until he improves. Readers will relate to Pedro, who uses his everyday life to help him become a better goalie. For example, he blocks his brother from stepping in dog poop. The story also highlights the dangers of bragging. Even though the story shows Pedro’s friends helping him improve, readers will wonder why there could only be one goalie during a game.

Independent readers will enjoy the easy-to-understand plot and the bright colorful illustrations that appear on every page. Each page contains four or fewer sentences, with simple vocabulary. Although Pedro’s Big Goal is part of a series with many of the same characters, it does not need to be read in order.

At the end of the story, readers will find a glossary, questions, and writing prompts. Younger readers will giggle as they try out the sports jokes. Despite the predictable conclusion, readers will still enjoy Pedro’s Big Goal as well as improve their reading skills along the way. Readers who enjoy the Pedro series should also try the Katie Woo series because it has many of the same characters and is written in the same format.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

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