cover image The Ball Hogs

The Ball Hogs

Rich Wallace, illus. by Jimmy Holder, Knopf, $12.99 (128p) ISBN 978-0-375-85754-6

Centered on a coed fourth-grade soccer team, the Kickers series starts up with a novel that delivers a worthwhile if belabored message about teamwork. Though Ben hasn’t played on a soccer team before, he is determined to outshine bossy, boastful Mark, who at the first Bobcats practice announces, “I’ll be the star of this team.” Ben soon realizes that he is as much of a ball hog as Mark is, and Wallace (the Winning Season series) bluntly spells out the solution to that compound problem: “[Ben] knew that the best chance the Bobcats had to win a game would be if he and Mark could somehow work together.” A less lively parallel drama about fair play and inclusion plays out at the schoolyard, where Ben and his classmates work out their differences during games of four square. Those scenes drag, though the soccer action propels the rest of the story, which has an unsurprising yet heartening finale. The second installment, Fake Out, arrives in August. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 7–10. (June)