REVIEWED BY TRICIA GILBEY
Venessa Taylor (Hashtag Press: 2020)
The #ownvoices movement aims to increase the representation of voices from all cultures and backgrounds in children’s books so that all children can see themselves reflected within
and on the covers of a book. This aim has certainly been fulfilled with Baller Boys, a book about two best friends who have the chance to play for a football team.
Baller Boys has a well-portrayed, multicultural cast which reflects Venessa’s experiences of growing up and teaching in London. Shay and Frankie are best friends, but when they try out for All Cultures United, Shay gets chosen to play for the main under nines team, and Frankie for the ‘development squad’. This is the first time they haven’t done everything together, and dilemmas arise which threaten their friendship.
Having been a teacher myself, I know that young readers would value seeing their own struggles with similar problems reflected here. Every character in Baller Boys has their own challenge or flaw. Venessa Taylor portrays the wider community and the children’s home life alongside the training and the football matches. I enjoyed this aspect,but I would have liked to see her stick more tightly to the children’s point of view rather than occasionally writing about what was going on in adults’ heads too, as I think young readers might find this confusing.
Venessa Taylor has a passionate interest in engaging reluctant readers and does this through a simple short story in a clear typeface, and illustrations such as the ‘football cards’ which introduce the characters.
Venessa Taylor is planning to show the Baller Boys growing up through future books in the series, and said, ‘I’d like to develop a Baller Boys journal where children can record their goals, feelings, thoughts and experiences, as well as collect their ideas and observations etc. to help improve their wellbeing.’ This is a great project and I wish her luck with it.