Given that football is one of the most popular and played sports across the globe, there are a distinct lack of quality fiction reads for young children. Once again, Barrington Stoke step-up to fill that void with Eve Ainsworth’s All to Play For, a stirring and emotive read about following your dreams when the odds are stacked against you.
Lewis loves being in his happy place - a strip of grass between the bins and the carpark on the estate where he lives. Honing his skills in the shadow of the tower blocks, he imagines being somebody else and scoring a goal at Wembley. He is delighted when his talent is spotted by Ash, the head of Ace Academy, but there’s a problem, well two in fact. Mum doesn’t have enough money to buy the kit he needs and even if she did there’s no way she would let him play, she has been anti-football ever since the beautiful game tragically took the life of her beautiful husband. This could be Lewis’ chance to fulfil his dreams but to do so he may have to break mum’s heart…
Against the backdrop of family tragedy and rooted in real-life and relatable experiences, Ainsworth finds the back of the net with a powerful story of footballing dreams that tackles the hard-hitting issues of poverty, social inequalities and grief. Like many boys, Lewis wants to be a footballer. And that comes at a price, both financially and emotionally.
Lots of parents can struggle with the costs of funding the hobbies that their children pursue. Whilst football may claim to be the ‘working man’s’ game the cost of kits, boots, summer camps, football clubs and academy fees can certainly place strain on parents as they try to support their children in achieving their dreams.
Lewis’ mum works hard for the little money that they have and there isn’t enough to be spent on football. Lewis is the kid with the tatty boots, the hand-me-down ball and wears the plain white t-shirt whilst the other kids proudly show off the colours of their favourite team. What Lewis does have though is great mates who not only share his passion for football but do everything they can to help him out and an understanding coach and positive male role model that knows talent when he sees it. For all of his footballing dreams, Lewis is an incredibly thoughtful boy; he hides the truth about his secret kick-abouts from his mum for fear of bringing more heartache into the family home.
With the action on the pitch as tense and as nail-biting as the action off it, football mad kids are going to love this story. It has all the thrills and spills of a top-of-the-table Premier League clash and readers will be with Lewis every kick, tackle and goal-scoring step of the way as he edges closer to the impossible dream, willing him to achieve and hoping that his mum can become his biggest supporter.
Ainsworth’s brilliant storytelling and Kirsti Beautyman’s awesome illustrations are a match-winning combination and because this is Barrington Stoke it is printed in dyslexia friendly font and on tinted paper ensuring the book can be accessed by every child.
With huge thanks to the lovely peeps at Barrington Stoke for the copy I received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Recommended for 8+.