As this meager, too obvious tale opens, Willy announces to his friends that things will be different now that they are fifth graders in a new school: "I don't want to be just a face in the crowd. I want us to be part of the `in' group." Observing that most of the "cool" guys are jocks, Willy and two buddies decide to join the football team, though they've never played. At the first practice, an older boy on the team derisively calls them "scrubs," explaining that a scrub is "a lousy benchwarmer." Willy sticks with the sport, even though he indeed ends up a scrub. The same older boy bullies the friends when they go out for wrestling the following season and Willy quits the team. But after one boring day of sitting at home, he decides that not going to practice is worse than going, and he gives wrestling a second chance-and his best effort. At the last meet, Willy comes close to pinning a high-performing opponent and earns a standing ovation despite losing the match. McEwan delivers a worthy message about perseverance and sportsmanship, and the novel's large typeface plus short sentences and chapters seem tailor-made for reluctant readers. But the delivery is forced and repetitious, which could bench this book early on. Ages 7-10. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Willy and his three best friends, Rufus, Dan and Clara, are starting middle school (as fifth graders). They have decided that it is time for a new start in this big school and are going to try things they never have before, hoping to create a sort of new identity. Willy and the boys decide to go out for football, even though two of the three of them are small and none of the three are very quick on their feet athletically! This book touches upon themes such as being one of the "in" crowd, perceived parental expectations, winning isn't everything, and other themes, all in a sensitive but funny manner. The typeset is large and double spaced. Small black and white illustrations on the beginning pages of the eleven chapters convey a lot of emotion. Recommended, not only for content but readability, especially for young boys. The author is a two time Olympian in whitewater canoeing and won a bronze medal in the 1972 Olympic Games. He was a scrub for ten years in football at a private school because playing football was mandatory. After that he tried wrestling and lost every match his first season; later he became captain of his college team and graduated from Yale. 2004, Darby Creek Publishing, Ages 8 to 12.
—Cindy L. Carolan
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-When Willy and his friends begin fifth grade, they decide they will get into the "in" crowd by becoming jocks. First, they join the football team, and Biff, an older boy, badgers them and calls them scrubs. Willy is not as fast or as coordinated as the other players, but he sticks with the sport. Although he never plays in a game, his father assures him that going to practice makes him just as much of an athlete as Biff. When the boys try wrestling, Willy again feels as if he is out of his league, especially when he faces off with Biff, who wrestles like "an oily boa constrictor." Still, he works hard to improve his skills and increase his endurance. Ultimately, he learns to accept himself and discovers that he can be a "real jock" in his own way. Willy's vulnerability and his desire for peer acceptance make his story appealing. Writing with humor, McEwan weaves these themes into the narrative in a natural way and endows several supporting characters with refreshingly non-stereotypical traits and interests. Short chapters and a large font make this book a good choice for sports fans from newly independent readers to those already enjoying Matt Christopher. Small, droll illustrations appear at the beginning of each chapter.-James K. Irwin, Nichols Library, Naperville, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.