Sunday, May 15, 2005

Playing to Win: Kicking & Screaming, the Movie Novel by Susan Korman

Sam's soccer team is having trouble. Ambrose keeps kicking the ball out of bounds. Hunter runs fast, but he doesn't always run the right way. And Conner, the goalie, can't seem to block any shots. To make matters worse, Sam's dad, Phil, is the team's coach, and he doesn't know anything about soccer. Instead, he's obsessed with beating his own dad, Sam's grandfather, who coaches the best team in the league. Going up against his dad is something Phil has been doing his whole life ... and, as Sam knows, he always loses. But when Sam's team starts racking up wins with the help of two new players, Phil is in danger of doing something much worse than losing—becoming just like his dad!
 Cover blurb from Kicking & Screaming, the Movie Novel
Good "chapter books," as novels aimed at 10-to-14-year-old children are called, have the same qualities that contribute to good adult literature: well-developed characters who answer a question or solve a problem they face, a plot, and a theme or "message" integral to the story-line. The best chapter books address important issues in children's lives, and guide them to make good choices and decisions in their own lives.

I'm not saying every chapter book should be a morality tale in order to qualify. Sometimes it's enough to help kids deal with adults being childish.

That's why Kicking & Screaming: the Movie Novel is a worthwhile read. Susan Korman has done a good job of rendering the action of the movie into a text novel which stands on its own, and does not need its eight pages of color stills from the movie to convey the story.

Even kids who don't play soccer will be able to relate to the conflict between Dad and Grandpa, rival coaches for their young son's soccer teams. These two men are far more adolescent in their behavior than any younger character in the story. Whether they are sniping and carping at each other, playing cutthroat tetherball, or tossing leaves over the fence in an on-going battle with a neighbor, their conflict is never violent, but is still scary enough to a grade-school boy caught in the middle. What is a child supposed to do?

Sam Weston, the central boy character, deals with other deep questions in the course of the novel. Is winning really everything, as Sam's Grandpa (played by Robert Duvall) keeps telling him? Does having fun mean some players don't have to learn the game? Can Sam's Dad (Will Ferrell) coach a winning team without becoming the same kind of coach as his own dad?

Female characters in the story are ciphers—perhaps a plus if the book is designed to appeal to young boys, but strange considering the number of girls' soccer clubs in the target market. The inclusion of legendary football coach Mike Ditka works much better, showing that teaching kids a winning attitude and dedication does not require being over-bearing, as Grandpa Weston believes, nor is it automatic when you step into the coach's shoes, as Sam's Dad discovers.

My recommendation, if you have a soccer-playing child in the appropriate age range, is to have him (or her) read the book first. Kids will get more out of the movie from being "in the know." But first, they'll have had the chance to visualize themselves in the role of Sam, or one of his other team-mates and rivals, and have the wonderful experience of entering another life that comes from reading a good book.

Please join us at BlogCritics to comment on this review.


Blogger samraat said...

4/03/2010 10:26 PM  

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