Writing a children’s book is difficult. You have a delicate balancing act when you are writing it to appeal to the right age of children, and stick to that age range throughout. Not only do you have to appeal to kids, but you have to make it interesting, which is extra hard for an adult. And, since kids usually do not make purchase decisions, your content has to at least catch an adult’s eye and make them chuckle enough to think their kid will like it. This is a lengthy way of saying reviewing a book for kids is tough because I know I am completely unable to write one.
The new children’s book Messi, Superstar tries to walk this fine line but too often ends up falling to far to one side or the other. Published by duopress, a company that aims to create “innovative children’s books and gifts,” the book deviates from the traditional biography and instead breaks up the story of Messi into chunks of why he is amazing. At 141 pages in the book, this is a rather long kids book but, sprinkled with quality illustrations, the length does not feel tedious, although I suspect that might not be the case if this were a child’s nighttime story.
The first chapter establishes why Messi is a superstar, using some beautiful illustrated graphics to put into plain context the outrageous numbers in Messi’s career, before moving on to talk about his life, his impact on his teams, and eventually his future. This is an example of where the book wobbles in finding that balance; some of the stats seem better suited for a book aimed at the pre-teen set but would be incomprehensible to younger children. The authors do an excellent job of describing why Messi is great, and they use appealing graphics and pictures to do it, but it comes across to the adult reader as overkill.
Here is where the book’s greatest failing is. In trying to tell the story of Lionel Messi and why he is great, the authors hammer home using statistics and graphics data points about his career. None of that matters to kids; kids find their heroes through watching them and then comparing with their friends. As a child of the 1980s, my heroes came from other sports, like baseball. I didn’t admire Nolan Ryan because he ranked at number whatever on the all-time strikeouts list or led the league in some statistic. I liked him because he threw fast, struck out a lot of people, and was a winner. Many of you reading this have a similar story I suspect – your heroes growing up were athletes you watched on TV or in person, and did something you and your friends admired. You might know how many goals they scored or some other impressive stats, but you liked them because they transcended that.
While my review has been mainly negative, I think my overall feeling towards this book was more positive. The illustrations are top-notch; they aim to be childish and detailed in a way that bring across the statistics and information. As an adult reader, I myself grew more impressed with Messi and his accomplishments, even learning somethings along the way about him. One day, I will ask my kids if they want to listen to this story, and I suspect they might. Will it make them love Lionel Messi? No, because while they may be in awe of him (or at least what they understand about him) he will not replace the players they’ve seen on the pitch or rooted for on TV. Yet with all the terrible kids’ books out there about lesser subjects, this one is one of the better ones. I simply regret their decision to not write a compelling narrative that focuses on a younger audience (with some winks to the adults) instead of a book selling an already legendary player that has something for everyone.
Messi, Superstar: His Records, His Life, His Epic Awesomeness is available via Amazon and all fine booksellers.
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