With voting now open for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards (The Lollies), we are delighted to host a guest blog post featuring Alex Bellow and Ben Lyttleton, whose book Football School Season 2: Where Football Saves the World (available here) is nominated for the 9-13 age category.
In the Football School books, readers can learn about all sorts of fascinating subjects through the theme of football. The authors have managed to cleverly relate all sorts of information to football, including subjects like maths, biology and history. The books are also really funny, with cartoon-style illustrations by Spike Gerrell and plenty of jokes and puns to keep readers laughing out loud. Perfectly 'pitched' to make a brilliant 'match' for readers in upper KS2!
In this guest blog post Alex and Ben answer our questions all about the Football School series, their love of football and their opinions on children's books. Look out for an extra-special giveaway at the end of the post too!
How did you first come up with the idea of the Football School series?Ben: We knew there was a problem with literacy levels for many children at Key Stage 2. Studies conducted by the National Literacy Trust showed a huge amount of reluctant readers aged around 8 years old, which was becoming a concern to schools and parents. A lot of these children are already passionate about football and we thought that writing books that would help them tap into that passion and encourage them to develop a love of reading and a curiosity about the world. We have since been told by teachers and parents that the book has helped their children get into reading and they have thanked us for the associated benefits that come from that: more confidence, stronger vocabulary and improved school performance, as well as the joy that comes from reading something you love.
In the Football School books, how do you manage to teach so many different topics by linking them to football?Ben: I only have to go back to my childhood to remember that my knowledge of countries, capitals and cities is purely because of knowing where every football team was based - not just in the UK, but in Europe. We take this one step further and teach the subjects in the national curriculum through the gateway of football. So in Biology we will talk about nutrition and the digestive system by learning what footballers eat before they play matches and when they eat. In Physics, we learn about gravity by asking what it would be like to play football on Mars. In English, we learn how to write a match report and how it would be different depending on who your audience is. In geography, we learn how the climate in Brazil has made Brazilian players so skilful (it’s so hot and humid that no grass pitches can grow).
Are there any topics that you wanted to cover but found it too tricky to link to football?Alex: No! We believe that you can explain anything in the world through football. In the latest Football School book we have sections on the chemistry of baking, the mathematics of probability and on figures of speech like metaphor and simile - subjects that at first seem to have nothing to do with football. But in fact, white paint drying on a pitch undergoes the same chemical process as a cake when it bakes, the coin toss at the beginning of a match is an example of mathematical probability and football commentators use metaphor and simile to make their words sound more exciting. If you think hard enough there is always a connection! How do you manage to find so many weird and wonderful facts for your books?Alex: A lot of hard work! We are both journalists with more than 2 decades of experience each, and we read lots of books, articles and websites and also interview players, coaches, doctors and many more. For the latest Football School we even travelled across the country to find all about how one football club is combating climate change.
When and how did your interest in football develop?Ben: I grew up in a football-mad family and it was part of the fabric of our home life. I would play all the time and go to a game every weekend, and often travel with my brother to away games. Football brings people together and supporting a team is like being part of a family. I am fortunate that writing about football then became my career. What are you favourite footballing moments of all time?Ben: Football is full of great moments, and I feel like I can look back at my whole life by measuring them against these wonderful memories. I once scored a penalty kick in front of 20,000 fans against former Ireland goalkeeper Packie Bonner. I have played at Wembley and Craven Cottage (I still have the scar from a late tackle on me by Robert Pires to prove it!). I scored a scissors-kick in the park last year against my daughter which I think would have made Match of the Day’s Goal of the Season. My favourite match was probably the 1991 FA Cup semi-final when Paul Gascoigne scored an incredible free-kick from outside the area. That means that nothing I have seen in the last 27 years has been as good, which is a bit of a shame! What is important when writing a funny book for children?Alex: We are hugely lucky to be working with one of the funniest illustrators in the business. Spike Gerrell’s cartoons always make us laugh. He is able to convey hilarious expressions on the faces of all the footballers - human and animal - that we have in the book! Humour is really important since it adds to the enjoyment of reading - but you have to be careful not to overdo it. We want our readers to go “ha ha” just as much as they go “aha!” when they read something fascinating. Hopefully we have the balance about right.
Which recent children’s books by other authors have you enjoyed the most?Ben: My daughters love the Jamie Johnson series of books by Dan Freedman. Boy Under Water by Adam Barron and The 1,000-Year-Old Boy by Ross Welford were great, as were the Tara Dairman All Four Stars series. The Claude series by Alex T Smith is fun. What do you hope readers will take away from reading the Football School series?Alex: What’s most important is that kids read the book - since reading anything brings benefits. But we also hope that the books make children curious about the world. Often in school children think that each subject is ring fenced, in that, say, maths has nothing to do with English, and vice versa. We want to show that everything in the world is interconnected, that every subject is related to every other subject, and that’s what makes the world such a fascinating place. Why do you think football remains such a popular sport?Ben: Football brings people together like no other sport. It’s easy to play, it’s good exercise and an opportunity to be with friends. It’s exciting and dramatic and also unpredictable - you never quite know what will happen next, which is what makes you keep coming back for me. There is always the hope that your team can improve, or produce a talented home-grown player, or score a wonder-goal. We love it!
What are the plans for the rest of this series?
Alex: Next Spring we will release Football School: Star Players, which has the stories of 50 of the most inspiring football players of all time. And next Autumn we’ll have Football School: Season 4. And there will be yearly seasons after that. We’re also developing our YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/footballschoolfacts) with regular videos about the subjects that are in the books. We’re very excited about the future of the series!
You can also vote for it in the Lollies awards here: https://shop.scholastic.co.uk/lollies/vote.
Thanks to Walker Books, we have five signed sets of Football School books to give away to our followers!
Many thanks to Ben and Alex for answering our questions and to Scholastic for inviting us to take part in the Lollies blog tour.
Do check out the other stops on the blog tour too!