Thursday 25 September 2014

Billy Slater: Banana Kick

Billy Slater: Banana Kick by Patrick Loughlin, illustrated by Nahum Ziersch (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780857982667
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857982674
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

What a great concept for a series for young boys who love their sport. You don’t have to be a footy player to engage with the Under 11s Ravens. Each book follows the story of one of the team members. In this 2nd book of this new series, it’s Junior Taafuli’s turn. ‘At ten years of age, Junior was already five foot five. His hefty Samoan build had earned him the nickname Mount Taafuli.’

Despite his size, Junior is a quiet kid. Author, Patrick Loughlin, describes Junior’s running abilities in vivid phrasing – he came ‘steaming in through the middle of the forward pack like a Spanish bull let loose on a crowd of tourists.’

As the Ravens play more games, the opposition’s parents constantly sledge Junior because of his size. He is so dejected he thinks himself a freak. Even his teammates join in by making mean comments, ‘he’s on a seafood diet: see food and eat it.’

Billy Slater, the famous Australian fullback, is once again centre field when it comes to the kids’ training and wellbeing. In a preface to the book he reveals that when he started out in football, he ‘didn’t have the natural strength or size the other players had,’ so he had to find other skills. With boys reading this they will understand that like Junior, they each have their positive areas.

There is a lovely interlude throughout the book where the reader gains insight into Junior’s supportive and strong family. His father works at the fruit markets and his mother is a nurse and a wonderful, traditional cook. When Billy Slater organises for the boys to swap junk food for healthy food to give them energy, despite his size, it’s Junior who comes up trumps.

But there’s more to Junior than his physicality. During a confrontation with the team bully, Junior is at tipping point. Surrounded by the team who are chanting ‘Fight! Fight!’ he could have pummelled the bully into the ground, but he surprises everyone by rapping about being who he is.

With its punchy use of language that rushes the plot through each chapter, there’s always something of interest. The enticingly colourful cover and the black and white illustrations scattered throughout give just enough of everything. At the end of the book Billy Slater gives his tips on healthy eating and on how to perfect the game-saving Banana Kick.

As the whole team is profiled, who will be the next player in the spotlight in Book 3?

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