Celebrity sports authors – the best and worst

Having waded through many celebrity author books (although thankfully before either Marie Kondo or George Galloway have published theirs – I’m not kidding, although if I were, I’m not sure I could improve on that combination), I have sub-divided them according to their day jobs. Here are my thoughts on all of them, whether of not they made it into my top 10 (which you can read here).

Tilly’s Horse, Magic: Team Training by Pippa Funnell

A much more enjoyable book than I was expecting, especially given the number that are available (this is the second in this series and there are 18 in the companion Tilly’s Pony Tails series). Nothing very exciting or surprising happens, but the story is told with charm and those who aren’t team players come to a sorry end. There’s quite a bit of horse care and competition advice included, but it is deftly woven in so it does not slow down the action too much. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy pony books, and probably fine for those who like a good old-fashioned ‘selfishness will get its own comeuppance’ story.

Frankie’s Magic Football: Mammoth Mayhem by Frank Lampard

There’s definitely a pattern with many of these. Aimed at the 7+ reading independently market, the text is interspersed with illustrations, the chapters are short and the stories follow a familiar pattern. A sports-mad child is presented with an item relating to their chosen past-time, which turns out to be a portal to a magic world and the lessons learned, or items collected there turn out to be the key to succeeding in their chosen activity. There’s a certain predictability to them, but that is what a lot of children enjoy in their reading, especially at the stage when they are just becoming independent. I didn’t especially enjoy this, but it wasn’t bad enough to make me want to throw it across the room. Certainly, no worse than the Rainbow Fairies series at their most predictable (ie: anywhere between episodes 1 – 264). Definitely worth a try if you have a child who loves football but is not so keen on reading – and if they do click with Frankie and his magic football, there are 20 in the series to keep them going.

Go, Mo, Go: Monster Mountain Chase by Mo Farah (with Kes Gray)

This definitely wins the prize for the strangest. Kudos for the fact that no attempt is made to disguise the involvement of a professional author (the fabulous Kes Gray, author of two marvellous series, the Oi! books and the Daisy stories), but the premise of this book is so bizarre. Where Frankie’s football and Fergus’ bike are clearly stated to be magical items, Mo and his friends appear to be running across states purely fuelled by sandwiches and willpower. The pace is fast and unremitting – great for a long-distance runner, not so ideal for a storybook for 8 year-olds. I am a huge fan of Kes Gray, but I can only guess that for this he wrote it with his left hand while putting all his attention on one of his masterpieces with his right. Strictly for die-hard Mo fans only.

Flying Fergus: the Best Birthday Bike by Chris Hoy (with Joanna Nadim)

What a wonderful surprise this was! I read it shortly after Frankie’s Magic Football, and it really highlighted the differences between them. Where Lampard’s book is formulaic, this had real light and shade and the characters were believable individuals, rather than a name with traits attached. Close scrutiny of the pages at the end revealed Chris Hoy had some help in the guise of established children’s author Joanna Nadin (see here for a brief review of one of her books), which I assume is the magic ingredient which elevates this story. It is one of eight, and I would recommend it obviously to bike fans, but really to any child who enjoys an adventure story with a magical element. Sir Chris certainly takes my gold medal for celebrity sports authors! (with a bit of help from Joanna Nadin).

Magic Ballerina: Holly and the Ice Palace by Darcey Bussell

The wooden spoon, on the other hand, definitely goes to Darcey Bussell. Rarely have I had a more dispiriting reading experience, or the words “Well that’s 20 minutes of my life I won’t get back” had more force. It makes the Rainbow Fairies look like His Dark Materials. It is flat, formulaic, has zero peril and manages to make no magic whatsoever out of a potentially fantastical setting. I see that it is number 17 in the Magic Ballerina series. I have no intention of checking whether numbers 1 – 16 are just as bad. Avoid. Dame Darcey – stick to the day job (although I strongly suspect she does and someone else is churning out this drivel). No matter how ballet-crazy your child might be, do not inflict this on them (or yourself) – stick to Angelina Ballerina until they are old enough for Ballet Shoes.

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