The Mighty Lions and The Big Match (Powerful Picture Books #1)

  • Written by Tom Chapman
  • Illustrated by Chris Dickason
  • Published by Welbeck

What I loved most when I read this book for the first time is how it resonates the words of top tier professional footballers when they are asked for advice from both adults and children alike. Big occasions that have a lot of build up and hype are very stressful for children, regardless of age, because of the pressure they feel and perceive in relation to it, but that can also be the same for events in a child’s day that do not necessarily have the ‘hype’ that comes with a sports event such as the football game that this story book is about, for example a certain lesson having a practical planned, or getting up to talk/act in front of the class. Again the context of this book would be highly relevant to those situations too.

This story focuses on Abel and Drake, two brothers that are players in the Bears team, who are about to play in a football match final against the Mighty Lions. From the offset the reader becomes aware of how anxious Abel feels – from the larger than usual crowd, their parents being their to spectate, the speech the coach gives, and more besides. It very quickly overwhelms Abel, and impacts how well he plays. Drake on the other hand seems calm and collected, but we see how his decisions during the game aren’t to the standard he would usually play, and when the match ends and the Bear team lose it is then we become aware how Drake felt during the match too. Both of the brothers felt too much pressure on them during the game, and weren’t enjoying themselves, or playing to the standard they would normally do.

The brothers confide in their parents after losing the match, and their parents are straight away understanding and comforting. This powerful picture book reminds us adults that our words are powerful, and we should choose them wisely when speaking to children. It is better to positively reinforce and encourage children then it is to criticise and overwhelm them. What I think is brilliant about the way this story is written, and how it concludes, is how it leaves the opportunity for relevant discussion, and for parents/adults to to reassure children they share this story with that it is normal to feel anxious and worried about things we do not face in our normal routine, and that we are there to listen, and help where we can, because a problem shared is a problem halved.

The illustrations play an invaluable part in the story telling process, because they reflect the emotions the characters are feeling throughout the book, from pre match to during the game, and the relief the brothers feel when they talk things through with their parents after the football game. You get a feel for the energy of the football match, and from each of the players, as the illustrations portray this in detail, as well as in vibrant colours too. There are so many things readers can observe on the pages, as they will the Bear team to success, from the kit the different team players wear to the flags the crowd are waving. Combined with the story itself, the illustrations give children a feel for the buzz in the air surrounding the game, and the atmosphere surrounding the match too.

I would love to see this book being shared with entire classes in school, to maximise audience numbers, because the message behind the story is relevant to us all, and even if it isn’t significant to young children in that instance of hearing it, it will likely become just that with them in time, and with families across the country (and beyond) watching football games on a regular basis, if not the world cup games as and when applicable, the sports theme that threads this powerful story together is relatable from the very first page.

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