Warm up for the World Cup with some children's books about the beautiful game. We've rounded up our favourites, from poetry to picture books. There's sure to be something here to interest your young soccer fan.
My son, now 12, has read and recommends all of these titles. If you have a favourite that's not on the list, please share in the comments. We'd love to know about it.
Kwame Alexander's Booked is an immensely approachable novel-in-verse about a teen who loves soccer, hates reading, and is coping with his parents’ separation. This coming-of-age story is told through poems of varying styles. Poetry has never been this cool! Read our post about it here. (Age: 10+)
Striker, Starting Eleven and The Beautiful Game tell the story of Cody, a boy who had a tumour removed from his leg. He is determined to recover and pursue his love of soccer. David Skuy's series is powerful and inspiring. (Ages 9+)
Football Academy by Tom Palmer follows a group of boys selected to Manchester United's under-twelve team. It's a fast-paced, six-part series perfect for ages 7 and up. Read our post about it here.
Suarez, Neymar, Rooney and Sanchez—these are just a few of the players in Matt and Tom Oldfield's Ultimate Football Heroes. This series tells the stories of real-life soccer superstars, from the playground to the pitch. (Ages 8+)
Bali Rai's Soccer Squad follows Dal, Jason, Chris and Abs—a group of friends who play for the Rushton Reds. The first book begins with the friends trying out for a youth team, and subsequent books follow their football journey together. This is a fantastic, action-packed series. (Ages 8+)
The Wild Soccer Bunch is a group of soccer-loving friends who form their own team. Each book in this popular middle-grade series by Joachim Masannek focuses on a different player. Kids will love the sense of humour, football storylines, and realistic friendships. (Ages 8+)
What happens when a star player ends up on the worst team? In Mike Lupica's Shoot-Out, Jake learns that being a good captain means assisting off the field as much as scoring on it. (Ages 8+)
Matt Christopher has written many exciting, stand-alone sports novels for middle-graders. Dylan has read Soccer Hero, Soccer Duel, and Soccer Scoop. (Ages 8+)
Football Mad is fun collection of four stories sure to please any young reader that loves soccer. (Ages 7+)
Rich Wallace's Kickers follows nine-year-old Ben and his team, the Bobcats. There's lots of footy action to keep readers turning the pages. (Ages 6+)
In Soccer on Sunday, the popular Magic Treehouse series takes Jack and Annie to the 1970 World Cup in search of Pelé. (Ages 6+)
Lisa Wheeler's Dino-Soccer picture book features footy-playing dinosaurs, colourful illustrations, and irresistible rhymes. It’s a combination sure to please the youngest of soccer fans.
Note: Most of our books have boys as the main character. Please see this fabulous list from A Mighty Girl for titles about girls who play soccer.
One of the sweetest parts of childhood is the belief that magic exists—whether in the form of fairies, sorcerers, unicorns, or dragons. Kate adored these whimsical worlds when she was little, and ever since, her favourite genre has been fantasy.
Tuesdays at the Castle, a middle-grade novel by Jessica Day George, is one book that Kate returned to time and time again.
The magic in this story is embodied in Castle Glower, home to Princess Celie and her family. Castles can be old, lonely and draughty places, but not this particular palace. “Whenever Castle Glower became bored, it would grow a new room or two,” the book begins enticingly.
This sets the scene perfectly for enchantment and adventure, as Castle Glower adds rooms or takes them away, moves passageways, creates staircases, and reveals hidden chambers, seemingly randomly. But there’s a method to the madness. The castle acts as a royal adviser and protector, and Celie, in particular, has learned to interpret the meaning of the castle's transformations.
One day, the King and Queen are assumed dead during an ambush by bandits. A group of ambassadors from a nearby kingdom invite themselves to stay at Castle Glower. They claim to be there to help Celie and her siblings during this tragic time, but when the castle expresses displeasure by shrinking one gentleman's bedroom to the size of a prison cell, Celie knows which of the visitors not to trust.
Kate loved this novel. Celie is a smart, brave and resourceful heroine, and the castle is brimming with personality. It's helpful, mischievous, and wise, and a fantastic ally as the children work to save their kingdom.
There are as many twists in the story as there are in the castle's everchanging floorplan, and the adventure is delivered with a light-hearted touch. For example, the children’s attempt to remove the unwanted visitors involves a series of pranks which will have young readers smiling.
Tuesdays at the Castle is followed by the sequels Wednesdays in the Tower, Thursdays with The Crown, Fridays with the Wizards, and Saturdays at Sea. Jessica Day George has created a spellbinding world that will remind kids—and grown-ups—to imagine that anything is possible.
Books in series: 5
Tuesdays at the Castle
Wednesdays in the Tower
Thursdays with the Crown
Fridays with the Wizards
Saturdays at Sea
For many tourists, the most challenging thing about a vacation in Paris might be long queues at the Eiffel Tower or stumbling through a conversation in French. It's certainly not being thrown into an international espionage plot, like the characters in the fast-paced and hilarious middle-grade novel, The Family Hitchcock.
Written by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, this light-hearted spy caper centres around 13-year-old Maddy and her younger brother, Benji. They know how they want to spend the summer, and it's not a house-swap with a family in Paris.
We found a copy of The Family Hitchcock just before our own family vacation in Paris, so it was a fun read for my son, Dylan. But a vacation in the famous City of Lights is where the similarities between our family and the Hitchcocks end.
In the book, mistaken identities lead to stakeouts, kidnappings, and rooftop chases with bad guys. The Hitchcocks just wanted a family holiday, and now they must risk their lives to ensure a mysterious stolen vial doesn't end up in the wrong hands.
The plot moves at lightning pace, with one suspenseful moment after another. Humorous lines such as, “Daddy! You’re the Terminator!” or a character’s apology after crashing through a skylight—“Sorry to drop in like this!”—keep the mood light.
At the very heart of this madcap tale is the notion of family; in particular, the realities and tensions of being part of one. It’s not always easy to get along with your siblings or parents, but the Hitchcocks give hope that it's possible to develop a newfound respect for and understanding of each other.
And, they saved the world, too!
“It was the summer that Rosemary Bliss turned ten that she saw her mother fold a lightning bolt into a bowl of batter.” And so begins Kathryn Littlewood’s middle-grade novel, Bliss, which whisks readers into a world of magic and mayhem.
The story centres around 12-year-old Rose, whose mother is a kitchen magician. Her baking can cure all kinds of problems. She mixes lightning into a cake to help a boy who was electrocuted. She adds the yawn of a weasel to snickerdoodles to stop someone from sleepwalking. And, the tail of a cloud is baked into macaroons to lift a man out of a well in which he's been trapped.
This is a world where anything is possible, but to our heroine's chagrin, magic is strictly off-limits to her and her siblings. I won't give too much away, except to say that when her parents leave town for a week, Rose is instructed to keep the ancient family cookbook under lock and key. But, when a long-lost relative appears, Rose and her brother dig out the recipes and begin mixing up Love Muffins and Cookies of Truth. That's when chaos ensues in their small town.
Littlewood is exquisitely detailed in her writing: the opening scene in which Rose's parents catch lightning in a mason jar is spectacular. The magical recipes from the family cookbook—shared in their entirety with readers—makes one want to start baking right away. There's the wonder of discovering a hidden passageway of enchanted ingredients, with jars labelled 'Warlock’s Eye' and 'Dwarf of Perpetual Sleep'. And, readers will be brimming with anticipation at Rose's first attempt at magic. The batter in her mixing bowl trembles and shakes and sizzles and sparks. She realizes that, “these were no Betty Crocker zucchini muffins.”
Bliss is a delicious, lighthearted blend of magic and adventure. Rose is an entirely believable heroine who is trying to find her place in her family and the world. The results of her magic-gone-wrong are both humorous and harmless; there isn't anything to frighten young readers. It's a perfect read for ages 8 and up.
The book does end on a cliffhanger, setting up the storyline for two sequels. Kate started the trilogy when it was first published in 2012, and had an agonizingly long wait for the rest of the books to find out what happens. Luckily, readers today don't have to wait to follow up on Rose’s adventures in Dash of Magic and Bite-Sized Magic.
When it comes to books about soccer, Dylan has read all kinds—picture books, chapter books, novels, graphic novels and biographies. Now, thanks to author Kwame Alexander, he can add poetry to the list.
We had been browsing the aisles of Powell's Books in Portland looking for something new for Dylan to read when one of the staff handed him a copy of Alexander's Booked.
“You might like this,” she suggested.
When I realized it was a novel in verse, I hesitated. Dylan is not always adventurous about new or challenging books, and I wasn’t sure poems would interest him.
That’s when I learned an important lesson: don’t assume you know what your child wants to read.
“Sure, I’ll try it,” he said, persuaded by the image of the soccer player on the cover.
A few days later, Booked was still on his shelf. I asked him about it, assuming he hadn't tried it.
“Oh, I finished it. It was good,” he said.
He read a book of poems in less than two days? And he liked it? I had to pick up Booked myself, out of curiosity. It was so mesmerizing that I finished it in one sitting.
Booked is about 12-year-old Nick Hall, who loves soccer, hates reading, and is coping with his parents’ separation. He's also struggling to deal with bullies and his first crush. It’s an ordinary coming-of-age story, but told in an extraordinary way.
His journey unfolds through poems of varying styles. The poems are fast-paced, rhythmic, and thoughtful. They’re funny, provocative, and heartbreaking. Even the choice of typeface, font and layout makes them visually engaging on the page. The book is a vibrant celebration of words.
In an interview with Reading Rockets, Alexander explained the appeal of this form of writing.
“Poetry is like the human soul entire distilled into very few words and they’re power packed. You can get a whole beginning, middle, and end in 10 lines,” he said. “Poetry, because of the language we choose, because of the metaphors we use, we can make the reader feel something pretty powerful in those few words.”
For example, this poem reflects Nick's pain over his mother moving out of the house:
It does not take
a math genius
to understand that
when you subtract
from the equation
Alexander cleverly uses sport to entice readers to discover poetry. It's effective. Having broadened his reading horizons, Dylan has now added two more of Alexander's novels in verse to his reading list: the Newbery Medal-winning The Crossover, and the just-published sequel Rebound.
Poems can be intimidating for some, but Booked is immensely approachable, and shows us how cool poetry can be.
My husband and I once travelled the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada. Notorious for UFO sightings and a top secret military facility, it's not a typical tourist destination, but occasionally, we like to add something quirky into our holiday plans.
Maybe that’s why I couldn’t resist Travels with My Family, a chapter book about one family’s offbeat vacation adventures. Written and illustrated by the husband and wife team of Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel, the stories are told from the point of view of Charlie, a young boy who just wants a normal family vacation. To him, this means “beaches and warm water, nice hotels with swimming pools…giant waterslides and amusement parks.”
However, Charlie’s parents prefer the road less-travelled. “No tourist traps. No line-ups. No wonder! Nobody wants to go there!” our narrator complains.
There's no Grand Canyon for Charlie, as his dad instead heads to the lesser-known Canyon de Chelly. They skip Disney World in Florida for the Okefenokee Swamp. And, they bypass Carlsbad Caverns, with its welcome centre and souvenir shop, for Slaughter Canyon Cave, which doesn’t even have a bathroom.
This lively collection of stories is inspired by Gay and Homel’s own travels through North America with their sons. The bite-sized tales blend adventure (and misadventure) with humour. One chapter tells of a sneaker wave that almost sweeps Max out to sea in California. There's also a close call with an alligator in Florida, a skirmish with sheep on Salt Spring Island, and an accidental encounter with what turns out to be a revolution in Mexico.
The stories are perfect to read as a family, or for young readers to tackle on their own. Kate enjoyed the hijinks of Travels with My Family so much, she went on to read the sequels, On the Road Again!, in which the family heads to France, and Summer in the City, about a staycation in their hometown of Montreal. There's also a fourth book, The Traveling Circus, set in Croatia.
Travels with My Family will entertain children and strike a familiar chord with parents. Things don’t always go perfectly on family vacations, but the memories will last for years to come.
Books in series: 4
Travels with My Family
On the Road Again!
Summer in the City
The Traveling Circus
The interesting thing about tooth fairies is their different approaches to their work. Some fairies leave a coin, while others leave a $20 bill. Some write a note in fancy fairy script, and others magically change the colour of your bedside glass of water by dipping their dress into it.
(I had no idea that this latter fairy existed until she visited one of my daughter's friends. Kate was disappointed this fairy never visited us, but luckily, she did come the next time Kate lost a tooth.)
April and Esme Tooth Fairies, by Bob Graham, is a gorgeous picture book that updates the story of the tooth fairy for our modern world. Seven-year-old April gets a call on her cell phone for her very first tooth fairy mission. She comes from a long line of tooth fairies and is excited to finally be allowed to fly off and collect a tooth with her little sister Esme.
The illustrations are delightfully detailed. Look closely at one, and you’ll see a small house with a thatched roof, hidden off a busy highway. The sign on the house says, “J & F Underhill, Tooth Fairies, est. 1691.” It’s easy to imagine fairies such as these living among us, their tiny home tucked beside a tree stump as trucks go rambling past.
Both of my children loved the story of April convincing her parents that she’s ready to take on the responsibility of tooth-collecting. It’s a mission that almost goes awry, but April is able to text her mother for advice.
We read April and Esme Tooth Fairies every time we expected a tooth fairy visit, and sometimes when we weren’t. Now that the children are older, we haven’t talked about the tooth fairy in ages. Dylan lost a tooth last week (he's eleven), and he nonchalantly handed it to me to dispose of.
If the tooth fairy visits your house, this book will bring sweet smiles to your little ones. I have fond memories of our tooth fairy days. Enjoy the magic!
When my son, Dylan, was in second grade, every book he was reading seemed to involve impertinent, mischievous boys, and potty humour. A LOT of potty humour. I was glad that he loved to read, and his giggles told me that he was greatly entertained, but I began to think that broadening his horizons wouldn't be a bad thing.
When I popped by my local children’s bookstore in search of inspiration, I explained what I was looking for. The sales clerk knew instantly.
“Something with characters who are smart, and not smart-alecky?” she asked. Yes, that was it. She pulled Star Jumper: Journal of a Cardboard Genius, by Frank Asch, from the shelf. It’s the first of a three-part series.
It was perfect.
The Cardboard Genius is a young boy named Alex, who considers himself the smartest human being on Earth. He builds amazing gadgets from ordinary household items. His preferred material of choice, cardboard, is “the least appreciated, most underrated building material ever invented."
Alex decides to construct a spaceship so he can blast off to another planet. He has to get away from his annoying brother, Jonathan. What child can’t relate to this scenario?
It’s no easy feat to journey through space, however, and Alex needs all kinds of equipment to make the trip a success. The book includes sketches of his designs. He builds an oxygen generator with a shoebox, forks and rubber bands. His innovative spacesuit design uses a snowsuit, helmet, and tubing from a vacuum. He also needs a micro blaster to protect himself from danger, and a duplicator, because “I’d still want a dozen or so me’s around”.
Readers will delight in the fact that these creations are actually put to use, thanks to Alex's incredible imagination. What I loved most is how Alex’s ingenuity inspired the same from Dylan. After reading Star Jumper, Dylan gathered aluminum foil, straws, wire, and an old toy clock, and built his own radar dish. He deviated a little bit from Alex’s blueprint, but that’s what creativity is about, isn’t it?
Star Jumper was written in 2006 but it is very relevant today. Educators are emphasizing the importance of encouraging kids to freely design, innovate and create. Dylan's school recently hosted a Cardboard Challenge. Makerspaces are growing in popularity, and there's never been a greater focus on the need for the next generation to develop STEM skills.
The Journal of a Cardboard Genius series is an excellent way to inspire kids to look at ordinary items from a new perspective, and to develop creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Plus, it's simply fun to read.
Books in series: 3
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #1: Star Jumper
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #2: Gravity Buster
Journal of a Cardboard Genius #3: Time Twister
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.