A fictional David Beckham?

Jack (@jackhawkins17), our most recent intern, wrapped up his week with us on Friday and left this blog full of questions for us to answer:

Coming to the end of my internship here and responding to the questions of why I became interested in children’s literature, it got me thinking about what I really wanted to do as a ‘grown-up’ when I was younger. It was always a close call between a power ranger (the red one) or a footballer, and now after spending time seeing the inner workings of children’s book publishing I wondered to myself whether there was more room and indeed appeal in writing sports-based books for children. As I know I was not alone in having the dream of being the next David Beckham. In sport there is so much passion, desire and drama which could all be easily harnessed and transformed in to stories for a younger audience.

Films have successfully adapted fictional and real sporting events to create powerful, funny, exciting and intense pieces of cinema, which makes me wonder why there aren’t as many sports related books especially for children. Sporting films have not only succeeded in the box office, but recent films like money ball received huge acclaim and was in fact nominated for Oscars. This film was adapted from Michael Lewis’ 2003 book of the same name. This clearly shows a huge appeal to readers, and maybe a possibility that is not being fully explored by children’s authors or publishers.

Every year there is some sporting event that grips the nation. Everywhere you look there articles and programs following these events. Why couldn’t this huge wave of enthusiasm not also be harnessed by the literary world? For example, every year after Wimbledon tennis courts are fully booked until the end of the summer. All Brits suddenly become obsessed with playing tennis and becoming the next big star. Especially children.

This interest could overflow into children’s literary fancies. And as we have seen from book’s such as Mal Peet’s Football come ghost story ‘Keeper’, the idea of sport does not have to be an overpowering theme, but a device to interest readers initially as well as acting as a platform to express different ideas and themes.

This theme is so universal it allows any story to become relatable and accessible. This does not just apply to fiction as some of the most important historical events of modern times have surrounded sport. Jesse Owens at Hitler’s games in 36, the Munich Massacre in 72 or even the football games played in no-mans land between German and English troops during the WW1 Christmas truce. There are incredible, rich, compelling and emotional stories in all of the events and countless more, and by using the incredibly accessible medium of sport you could translate these stories in an extremely successful way.

Commentators often say ‘You just couldn’t write it, could you?’ But could we? Should we?

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10 responses to “A fictional David Beckham?

  1. Thanks for all your hard work, Jack! (For all you Women in Digital fans, Jack was the one working hard to get us the videos of the evening, as well as helping set up!)
    It’s an interesting question — I think publishing has certainly tried to make sports books happen. And The National Literacy Trust does a lot of work with the Premiere League to encourage reading: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/resources/practical_resources_info/filter/sports
    But it is true that there is no big “sports series” of fiction books for kids in the UK. (Does anyone know better?)
    When I was at Little, Brown in the the US, I worked on the Matt Christopher books: http://www.mattchristopher.com/ which is nothign but sports books for young readers… but the fictional stories were the hardest to make work. It was always the non-fiction that was successful.
    Part of me wonders if no one has gotten it right, just yet, but another part of me wonders if it is because reading about sports is just not as fun as actually getting out and playing them!

  2. Hi guys – what a great blogpost, Jack! I do know of these football books about a young teen – Danny Palmer – who loves the sport but he’s also very much into crime-solving (which I love): http://www.tompalmer.co.uk/index.php?page_id=6 – but apart from these books I don’t really remember seeing many titles covering sports – especially in fiction. I know there was or is a series of books who look at this peripherally for girls called WAGs but then again, it’s a completely different kettle of fish! Out of interest, here is one: http://keris.typepad.com/chicklet/2010/06/review-world-cup-wags-by-anonymous.html

  3. It is a really interesting subject actually! Great post Jack. When I was younger, my hugely sporty brother didn’t read fiction at all. Until Michael Hardcastle came to visit our school. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Hardcastle His books about football and other sports suddenly sparked that interest in my brother and he read through the lot. Even now, one of his favourite books is Born to Run http://www.amazon.co.uk/Born-Run-Hidden-Ultra-Runners-Greatest/dp/1861978774/ref=pd_sim_b_3 – it’s the only book he’s ever read more than once.

    I’ve never understood why football or sport fiction doesn’t do better. People are always saying that sport is just a remarkable story in itself – the high and lows, the characters, the politics, the places – sometimes you can’t make it up. There was a series of books called The David Beckham Football Academy http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_6_10?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=david+beckham+academy+books&x=0&y=0&sprefix=david+beck%2Cstripbooks%2C119 but I don’t think they really took off. Perhaps as Sara says, they aren’t realistic enough? Maybe that’s why the non-fiction, the true sport stories are the ones people pick up instead?

    Though, as an aside – I did just buy this http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gold-Chris-Cleave/dp/0340963433/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340625508&sr=1-1 for my Dad. You can tell I come for a sporting family!

  4. I think that sports is so action-orientated, so ‘goal’-orientated (ho, ho, forgive the pun 🙂 ) that it is hard to translate the feeling and experience of sport into fiction. Think of that dreamy feeling you get when reading and immersing yourself in the story – it’s almost the direct opposite of the high adrenalin, kick-ass feeling you get when exercising or playing sports.. hmmm.. think guys and gals that are interested in sports are really very interested in the REAL achievements of others so that they can be inspired to mirror them in some way. Just a thought.

    • It’s true, but then why are sports movies so successful, and of course sport on telly? Why is reading about sports not the same as watching it?

  5. Great post Jack, although I’m not sure I have an answer to the question as to why there aren’t more sports related stories out there either. I will add though that the handful that we have in the school library do not seem to be particularly popular, and the sporty boys tend to prefer dipping in and out of the various footballer autobiographies that we have on the shelves. I think they much prefer reading about one of their real life sporting heroes, who they can aspire to be like, rather than a fictional character of a similar age to them.

    • Darren, that was my experience, too. Non-fiction seems to really work, but fiction is harder.
      However, I’ve just remembered this: http://scottsigler.com/GFL. The Galatic Football League, which is successfully self-published, mostly in the US.

  6. What an interesting post and a great question 🙂

  7. Sarah OC, I think the reason sports movies are popular as opposed to fictional books is that very different parts of the brain are engaged. The movie is quicker-paced, needs no thought or reflection, you can see the blood pumping, sweat pouring down the athletes’ muscles which gets your own blood pumping and it’s much more an instant gratification very like the experience of exercising or playing sports itself – that’s my take on it anyway 🙂

  8. I feel like there are plenty of female oriented perennial sporting favourites – ballet, equstrian sports and so on – but a real dearth of stuff for boys.

    I vividly remember a series of fantastic football (soccer) based books that I read as a boy but sadly don’t remember the name of either the series or its author. From what has been written above I feel like it might be the work of Michael Hardcastle but it’s hard to say. Next time I’m at my parent’s house I’ll have a dig around in the loft. The books were about a local 7-a-side team, focussing on two star players who happened to be brothers – a rebellious, hot headed striker and a calmer, more down to earth goalie. Their Grandfather was the team’s coach / father figure / counsellor. I remember one book in the series more than the others; it took place in an indoor pitch and was a kind of county competition. The main competition came from two other teams – a bunch of kids from the other side of town who played dirty, and, shock horror, a team of girls. Great stuff!

    Thanks for a great post, Jack. I’d love to see a modern, dynamic book aimed at boys with a sporting bent too. In this discussion it seems like we’re focussing on football but what about other sports – basketball? martial arts? tennis? running? What sport does anybody think has the most novelistic potential?

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