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Children's LiteratureIn this debut title of his "Winning Season" series of middle-grade novels, Wallace supplies fast-paced sports action abundant enough to satisfy even the most reluctant-reader sports fan, in an appealingly slim 101-page format (perfect for kids scouting for something to meet a teacher's 100-page length requirement for a book report!), while also managing to create a story with genuine sweetness at its core. Sixth-grader Manny and his friend Donald decide to switch from soccer to football for a season, despite being the scrawniest guys on the team. And sure enough, they suffer on the sidelines, until they earn their brief, but oh-so-rewarding time in the spotlight. Manny's working class family is warm and affectionate, and his five-year-old brother, Sal, is responsible for some of the most poignant moments in the story, with his touching, but sometimes almost unbearable, hero worship of his older brother; and the Hudson City, New Jersey, setting is realistically depicted. Wallace demonstrates that he knows that the best way to wrench readers' hearts is not to show kids' cruelty to each other, but their decency and kindness: the true team nature of team sports at their best shines through here. This book should fly off the shelves to kids who seek fast-moving sports stories with soul. 2004, Viking, Ages 9 to 12.
—Claudia Mills, Ph.D.