Book review: Football, magic and mishap with Oxford University Press

What perfect timing for a nation consumed by the excitement of the World Cup Finals… the terrific tale of a team of madcap, misfit footballers.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 10th June 2014, 10:00 am
Football, magic and mishap with Oxford University Press
Football, magic and mishap with Oxford University Press

Oxford University Press, which prides itself on producing a wealth of wonderful books for children and laying the foundation for a life-long love of reading, has a sparkling line-up of summer titles.

Kicking off the action is Charlie Merrick’s Misfits, a brilliantly anarchic new series of soccer sorcery by the amazing Dave Cousins, followed closely by the wild adventures of everyone’s favourite witch Winnie and a boastful but adorable raccoon.

Age 8 plus:

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Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends, and Football by Dave Cousins

No footie-mad child will want to miss out on this all-action, fun and frantic story about a group of loveable pals whose goal is to be the best soccer team in town.

Whether they reach the top of their disaster-strewn but beautiful game, and keep the newly formed North Star Galaxy team of tearaways on side, is all part of the fun.

Children’s author Dave Cousins has a habit of writing novels full of humour and the surreal, and here he works his magic on a footballing tale of our times featuring a crazy but charismatic group of kids who seem fated to be losers but still win everyone’s hearts.

‘I play for North Star Galaxy and this is the story of our first season. I don’t know how it’s going to end, but I hope it will be at the World Cup Finals this summer! I’m going to tell you everything that happens – the truth – however painful that might be.’

So begins Charlie Merrick’s story… he loves football, he watches it, memorises facts about it and he’s even captain of the local youth team, North Star Galaxy.

When Charlie discovers that youth teams are being selected to play in exhibition matches at the World Cup tournament later in the year, he decides to enter North Star Galaxy Under-12s. There’s just one problem. He’s got to prove that North Star deserve a place at the tournament and that’s not easy when your team are rubbish at football!

Written in the form of Charlie’s competition entry for his team to play the exhibition match, Cousins’ brilliant book is crammed with lively, eye-catching illustrations, comic strips, interactive match reports. Add to this a dynamic and loveable hero and fast-moving, hilarious storylines and you have a book perfectly football-pitched for sporty kids and reluctant readers.

These are football stars that every child can relate to… their triumphs, their disasters, their dreams, their nightmares and their moving moments of unexpected success.

A top team which will go on winning long after the final whistle has blown on the World Cup…

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

The Misadventures of Winnie the Witch by Laura Owen and Korky Paul

What better way to find magic and mayhem than in the company of everyone’s favourite witch?

The adventures and misadventures of bewitching Winnie the Witch and her black cat Wilbur provide spellbinding, bite-size stories for young readers and, lucky for us, this full-colour collection has eight laugh-out-loud stories in one.

Brilliantly illustrated in Korky Paul’s distinctive and charismatic style, Winnie and Wilbur’s escapades are always mad, bad and dangerously hilarious.

Winnie books have sold over five million worldwide and are a firm favourite with children. Scatter-brained Winnie is not as simple as she seems and always conjures up some important life lessons amidst all those zany antics.

Here we find Winnie full of outlandish schemes and plans to put her magic to good use. From Winnie’s knickers shop, where spiders sew up the lacy trims, to scoring goals, catching bats and cooking up some lovely turkey tonsil titbits, giggles are guaranteed.

These short, punchy stories are perfect for young readers who are ready to enjoy longer books but still enjoy following the action through bold and vibrant illustrations.

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)

Age 5 plus:

Oxford First Rhyming Dictionary

Have fun in the sun, drink lemonade in the shade and be inspired to write about pirates, kings and magic rings….

There aren’t many children who don’t love a rhyming story… storytelling coupled with the addictive tempo of rhyme and poetry is seductive to all age groups.

And what better way to help school starters eager to write their own poems than the Oxford First Rhyming Dictionary which contains over 1,000 rhyming words to teach and inspire?

This colourful, easy-to-use dictionary contains a clear and simple alphabetical list of words that rhyme and rhyming sounds, as well as an index to make finding words child’s play. John Foster’s lively poems accompany the rhyming sounds, and every page features bright and colourful illustrations.

Children can expand their vocabulary, practise phonic sounds to help with spelling and writing and, with a little help, begin to write their own rhymes.

Writing, reciting and reading poetry is a requirement of the Primary curriculum, and the Oxford First Rhyming Dictionary is a perfect way to get started. And to accompany the book, there are lots of free downloadable rhyming games, puzzles, activities online at

(OUP, paperback, £7.99)

Age 2 plus:

The Great Moon Confusion by Richard Byrne

Pre-school children will be over the moon with this cautionary tale of a know-it-all raccoon….

Aldrin the raccoon likes to think he knows everything. And if he doesn’t know the answer to a question, no problem, he just makes something up. In the pine forest, there’s a perplexing puzzle. The moon is getting smaller every day and Rabbit wants to know why. She asks her friend Aldrin, the raccoon. Although he doesn’t have the answer to her question, Aldrin decides the issue needs a ‘proper investigation.’ And, because he’s a bit of a know-it-all, Aldrin dreams up a far-fetched explanation for the shrinking moon which points the finger of blame at two bumbling bears called Hubble and Lovell. In fact the bears turn out to be pretty smart and it’s thanks to them that the other animals get their first fun lesson in astronomy.

Richard Byrne’s beguiling story about jumping to the wrong conclusions is brought to life with bold, eye-catching illustrations. The blend of science and psychology are subtly concealed inside a story that is fun, accessible and destined to send young imaginations sky high.

(OUP, paperback, £6.99)