Using football fever to get young kids excited about books

I’ll come straight out with it: I’m not a football fan.


I am a fan of using whatever I can to get kids excited about books and reading.

So this week at school, in our story+activity enrichment session on Friday, it’s all about football (soccer) in the hope that Euro 2012 is fizzing rather than fizzling.

I’ll be reading three football-based picture books: Goal! by Mina Javaherbin and A.G. Ford, Pass it, Polly by Sarah Garland and Football Fever by Alan Durant and Kate Leake.

Goal!, set in a South African township, is about just how much fun playing football can be. Bullying and poverty also play a role in this book, which Archbiship Desmond Tutu has described as “uplifting and inspiring”. I’ve chosen to read it in school for its interesting setting and exuberance.

Pass it, Polly, by one of my favourite British author/illustrators, shows girls loving playing football just as much as boys. Polly and Nisha are determined to make it onto the school football team, and with a bit of practice and family support, they do indeed show everyone girls can make great footballers.

Football Fever is the most conventional, least challenging of the three stories (an anglo saxon family with a soccer mad son and father) but it is told with lovely humour, fun illustrations and a great punch line showing how football can excite anyone.

I’m also taking Fantastic Football Poems by John Foster, illustrated by Korky Paul into school for this session. Sometimes a kid just wants to read one-on-one with with me whilst others are being crafty, and this is a great book for that: Most of the poems are short (and not daunting for kids to read themselves) and the detailed, delightful illustrations by Korky Paul feel familiar because so many children know the Winnie the Witch stories which Korky Paul has also illustrated.

After reading the books we’ll be designing our own soccer strip and making footballing finger puppets. We’ll also be putting new designs on footballs and then playing footie on the classroom tables…

The template for the finger puppets can be found here (there are both boy and girl footballer templates). You may need to make the finger holes a little larger depending on the age of your kids. I’ve photocopied the templates onto white card. The kids will use ordinary pens and pencils to colour them in before cutting them out themselves (I’ll use a craft punch to make the finger holes – speed is of the essence when you’ve 30 kids on the go).

For footballs I’m using pingpong balls (I was able to find 12 pingpong balls for £1 in the pound shop), and we’ll be using permanent pens (Sharpies) to draw our designs onto the balls.

Depending on time (and teacher’s permission) I may get the kids to use masking tape on the school tables to add the pitch layout.

For those who don’t want to play table-top finger football there will be football bookmarks to make, using broad strips of green card, stickers, a hole punch and a little bit of ribbon. (I’ve laminated the ones we made at home, but may not have time for this at school).

I will be using the footballing stickers out of this Usborne Footbal Sticker Book. I find sticker books a cost effective way of buying “interesting” stickers for kids, especially if you can get the book on offer (all children’s books are 3 for 2 in WHSmith at the moment). I’ve taken the staple out of the book and cut up the sheets of stickers – there’s enough in this book for every child to have at least 10 stickers to use on their bookmark.

If I had more time I’d love to create something like this football pitch out of cress with the kids:

Cress football pitch by

For more resources making the most of football fever to get into reading don’t miss:

  • Premier League Reading Stars from the National Literacy Trust
  • Football Fever from Words for Life
  • Love Football, Love Reading 2, a resource to help practitioners use children’s passion for football throughout the year to promote reading
  • Author Tom Palmer’s website where you can download a EURO 2012 Reading & Writing Pack
  • Author Helena Pielichaty’s website
  • This World Cup detective project from WordSpace looks like lots of fun!

  • As it happens, last week I read a novel about football which completely bowled me over: The Keeper by Mal Peet.

    If you’ve a football mad teenager in the family please, please put a copy of this breathtaking, magical and mysterious book in their hands. If you don’t have such a teenager in your home, put the book in your hands. As I said at the start of this post, I’m no football fan, but The Keeper has to be one of the very best novels I’ve read this year. A page turner of a mystery, written so elegantly and beautifully, that for the few hours it took me to read it I too had a severe case of football fever.

    9 Responses

    1. sandhya

      Not a football fan too, but yes, as you rightly put it, a fan of anything that will make kids (and grown-ups) read.

      We have read Goal! from the books you have featured. Have also got Mal Peet’s Keeper after having read his Cloud Tea Monkeys. Have to certainly read it now after your very compelling recommendation.
      sandhya recently posted..Of school, friends, and Woman-Fridays

      • Zoe

        Hi Sam, as it happens there don’t seem to be many picture books about football at all, but I was so glad I was able to come up with three quite different ones – one which describes a pretty “normal” situation in a UK home, one for the girls, and then one which takes us all somewhere else and makes us think about what we have in common. I’m also taking into school a volume of football poetry illustrated by Korky Paul as my “back up” book.

      • Zoe

        Hi Se7en, Goal! is fun – I’m looking forward to reading it and going “GOOOOOAAAAALLLLLL!!!!!” at the end!

    2. victoria

      I’m not much of a football fan either, but the children I teach are so I am keen to try your finger football next week for an end of term activity. I have a display of soccer books in the library at the moment and there are so many good ones. I would add three to your excellent choices.
      1. Wonder Goal by Michael Foreman
      2. World Team by Tim Vyner which has a similar ‘feel’ to Goal, and
      3. Silent Music by James Rumford. This is a beautiful story set in Baghdad while bombs are falling and the illustrations are awe inspiring as well.

      • Zoe

        Victoria, thanks so much for this list of books – so very helpful indeed. I can’t wait to find them 🙂

    3. Chad Pio

      I just came across your excellent post from June. I can say the same goes for American football (and basketball or baseball) stories. When children, and boys in particular, can relate to the story and connect to the characters, it makes reading so much more fun and interesting to them. Thanks for the post.

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