Jamie McEwan, Author, James McEwan, Author , illus. by Victor Kennedy. Darby Creek $14.95 (0p) ISBN 978-1-58196-010-5

As this meager, too obvious tale opens, Willy announces to his friends that things will be different now that they are fifth graders in a new school: "I don't want to be just a face in the crowd. I want us to be part of the 'in' group." Observing that most of the "cool" guys are jocks, Willy and two buddies decide to join the football team, though they've never played. At the first practice, an older boy on the team derisively calls them "scrubs," explaining that a scrub is "a lousy benchwarmer." Willy sticks with the sport, even though he indeed ends up a scrub. The same older boy bullies the friends when they go out for wrestling the following season and Willy quits the team. But after one boring day of sitting at home, he decides that not going to practice is worse than going, and he gives wrestling a second chance—and his best effort. At the last meet, Willy comes close to pinning a high-performing opponent and earns a standing ovation despite losing the match. McEwan delivers a worthy message about perseverance and sportsmanship, and the novel's large typeface plus short sentences and chapters seem tailor-made for reluctant readers. But the delivery is forced and repetitious, which could bench this book early on. Ages 7-10. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 02/23/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Genre: Children's
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