3 out of 4 stars
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Sammy has been living with Grampa and Grama Smitty for a while. What a happy surprise it is when Grampa finds Sammy’s long-lost twin brother Ralph! However, since Ralph has been living on the streets, he has acquired some bad habits. The loving couple and Sammy, along with their soccer coaches, Hansi and Matumbu, and teacher Mr. Schulz, help Ralph forget his vices and inspire him to value education (studying hard), honesty (playing fair), and kindness (helping others). Will they make Ralph a better dog? (There is no mention that Sammy and Ralph are dogs; I am assuming they are dogs from the pictures.)
Soccer, reported by World Atlas to have four billion fans in 2018, is the world’s most popular sport. Dave Irby, who has an “A” coaching license from the US Soccer Federation, knows that. He also knows that many soccer fans are children. Coach Irby wrote this book to introduce Sammy Surge to kids; Sammy aims to teach kids his “life principles.” Sammy is the mascot of Surge International, a non-profit organization that uses soccer to teach the “young and the young at heart” valuable lessons "to make the world a better place."
Sammy Surge in Study Hard, Play Fair & Help Others is a short book of three chapters, one for each learning point. This sectioning makes each lesson clear. Chapter 1 (Study Hard) is set in the fifth-grade classroom of Mr. Schulz. Kids can very well see themselves in that setting, with the references to homework, impatiently awaiting the school bell to signal the end of classes, and the much-anticipated recess. Chapter 2 (Play Fair) makes use of a soccer game to reach its goal. Soccer fans will find the competition exciting; the author’s knowledge of the game is evident from the play-by-play narration. The lesson of helping others in Chapter 3 (Help Others) is not a hard sell; young ones will find the good deed easy to emulate.
The chapters all refer to the Sammy webpage for further explanations about the topics discussed. The site also allows the free download of a Sammy poster and the viewing of a charming video, one that I enjoyed immensely. Since most kids are tech-savvy, this is a clever strategy that will reinforce the learnings and double the fun.
The story will entertain tweens and younger. (Adults, especially soccer fans, are also welcome.) The older kids can read it on their own. Younger pupils may need assistance because of the length of the sentences. Preschool children will enjoy this being read to them. The colorful pictures make the reading experience more memorable. The illustrator, Rebecca Santana, may consider making the people more vibrant, though. As is, the dogs jump off the page while the people are overshadowed.
While the book effortlessly makes its points, I cannot give it the full marks because of the editing flaws. The author does not use commas for introductory phrases and compound sentences using coordinating conjunctions. That is a stylistic choice that is not too distracting for adults. A children’s book may need those commas, though. There are also run-on sentences, punctuation errors (other than the deliberate omission of commas), wrong verbs, and other grammar issues. Moreover, the dialogues of different characters are written in the same paragraph, making it difficult to identify the speakers. We cannot overemphasize the need to follow grammar rules in children’s books.
I hope to see the book cleansed of all those pesky errors soon. For now, I give it 3 out of 4 stars. I laud Coach Irby's passion for starting them young, both in sports and in virtue. May he continue to achieve his goals; may his good works surge.
Sammy Surge in Study Hard, Play Fair, Help Others
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