cover image Gunner, Football Hero

Gunner, Football Hero

James E. Ransome. Holiday House, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8234-2053-7

In the first half of this tale of an aspiring Pee Wee football star, Ransome (What Lincoln Said) has never been funnier or looser. From the very first page, in which the pear-shaped, beak-nosed Gunner strikes the famous Heisman pose and almost pulls it off through sheer force of personality, it's clear this is an unlikely hero worth knowing. But for all of Gunner's charisma, the third-string quarterback can't compensate for the story's saggy second half. Ransome's play by play of the big game, when Gunner finally gets a chance to play, feels almost clinical ("The running backs ran. Gunner passed, the receivers caught, and the offensive slowly moved down the field"). Although there are some stirring images of pigskin glory, especially a game-changing interception, there are also some striking disconnects between text and art. "Everyone on the Malden Tigers side of the field CHEERED!" shouts the narrator when Gunner throws a touchdown-scoring pass; meanwhile the crowd is shown sitting quietly, devoid of emotion. Readers will start out rooting for Gunner, but they may leave before the game is over. Ages 4-8. (Aug.)