Tuesday 6 August 2013

Frankie's Magic Football #1 - Frankie vs the Pirate Pillagers by Frank Lampard and Mike Jackson (Little, Brown Young Readers)

"Celebrities? Writing children's books? How very DARE they!" could well be your point of view when you hear an announcement stating that a high profile TV presenter, or in this case premier league Football Superstar, cracks out their crayons and writes a story for children.

But what of the children themselves? What do they think about the books?

We'll be taking the rather different approach with our review of "Frankie's Magic Football #1 - Frankie vs the Pirate Pillagers" of distancing ourselves completely from Frank Lampard's 'creds' as a footballer - because without the accompanying press release we'd have ended up googling a heck of a lot just to figure out who he actually is. We just don't do football at all at home.

"Frankie's Magic Football" is a series of football based books featuring the titular Frankie, his friends Charlie and Louise and of course not forgetting Frankie's awesome dog Max. After Frankie wins an old football at a fairground stall, Frankie discovers the football has magic properties, and can propel the adventuresome trio (and Max too) into a fantasy world where they're pitted against teams across space and time, aided by a mysterious referee.

Frank claims to have come up with the characters and ideas as stories made up to entertain his two daughters (though it's worth also reading this interview with Frank too for a little more background and clarity on the difficulties the premier league star encountered while writing a children's book).

The story's fantasy setting means that for Charlotte, someone who knows about as much about football and footballers as I know about plumbing (believe me, if you saw our house a week ago, you'd know I really don't know anything about plumbing!), there is a level of interest beyond the obvious football and sporty stuff.

Football Legend Frank Lampard can weave through a field of players or weave a tale or two

Moral lessons about standing up to bullies, about sportsmanship and cheating are woven into the story as Frankie and his friends face off against The Pirate Pillagers - a footballing team of nasty coves who will stop at nothing to win the match. With the prospect of being marooned on a desert island for the losers, there's everything to play for and as Frankie often points out - there's always time for a game of football!

Mike Jackson's illustrations aren't too bad, and help break up this early chapter reader. I expected to read this over the course of a few nights at bedtime to Charlotte but we managed to get through it in one sitting (it's fast paced, a very easy read and quite do-able to digest it in one go).

With my cynic's hat on I'd have probably joined the voice of dissent when the book deal was originally announced but without a doubt the "Frankie's Magic Football" series (with two books available now - Pirate Pillagers and Rowdy Romans, and a third on the way to eventually contribute to a set of 5) can easily achieve its core aim - To engage reluctant readers, particularly sports mad or footie-obsessed boys who would normally avoid books like the plague. There is every reason to cheer from the sidelines for anyone who takes the effort to use their influence and name to achieve that aim.

Charlotte actually really enjoyed this book and can't wait for me to read the second (I know, I can't keep putting it off forever so we will follow up this review with "The Rowdy Romans" at some point).

Interestingly, the books feature a 'Top Trumps" style collectable card game at the back of the book for children to cut out and play once they've collected the set. A great incentive to persevere with the series.

All told, the final word should come from Charlotte who - despite being slightly younger than the book's core target audience - enjoyed them enough to want to hear more about Frankie and his friends.

"Why doesn't Louise do much, Daddy?"

Charlotte's best bit: Max - who can actually talk once Frankie's Magic Football weaves its spell.

Daddy's favourite bit: There's actually some fairly atmospheric scene setting early on in the book, but it's strictly a game of two halves, Ron, and it'll take you a lot less than 90 minutes to charge through this.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Little, Brown Young Readers)