ROBERT CROWTHER'S POP-UP OLYMPICS. Walker Pounds 2.99. THE OLYMPIC SPIRIT. By Norman Barrett Wayland Pounds 9.99. THE YOUNG ATHLETE. By Colin Jackson. THE YOUNG SOCCER PLAYER. By Gary Lineker. Both Dorling Kindersley Pounds 5. 99.
THE YOUNG TENNIS PLAYER. By Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Dorling Kindersley Pounds 8.99
Graham Hart settles down to a ringside read about the two most-hyped sporting events of the year. When we look forward to the big sporting events, are we anticipating the games themselves or their television coverage? What will we remember? Will it be the results and the players, or the pundits, programmes and (vitally important these days) the theme music?
Several of this crop of books will remind young readers of the reality behind the coverage. By focusing as much on history as the present, the Ladybird titles in particular add an extra dimension to the two main events of this summer: the European Soccer Championships to be held in England for the first time, and the Olympic games in Atlanta.
The publications are of the highest design quality, a remarkable achievement at the very affordable prices. UEFA Euro 96: Information Book includes comprehensive details of dates, teams and venues of matches, with sections for readers to fill in as the tournament progresses. For the fact-minded fan, there is also good detail on the qualification process and past finals. The sticker activity book and poster book add extra information and visual interest.
The Ladybird Olympics 96 materials are of similar quality. The introductions to each athletic event or sport are of particular interest. Details of past records are given and space left for readers to update as the Centennial Games unfold. The patriotic card is played very strongly with Olympics 96; perhaps the Ladybird editors decided that our Olympians were more likely to succeed than either the English or Scottish soccer teams.
Looking slightly less value for money, but still providing young readers with heaps of facts and plenty of interaction is Robert Crowther's Pop-Up Olympics, which carries an interesting mix of information for about 10 years upwards. The pop-up style is possibly suited to slightly younger readers, but that said, the pop-up element is exceptionally refined, with a great variety of styles and techniques used. All readers will be entranced, especially by the gold medal you get to wear (librarians beware - this is removable!).
Norman Barrett's The Olympic Spirit, a well-illustrated information book, will have a much longer shelf life than some of the competing titles. It features the more timeless aspects of the Games: Jesse Owens at Berlin, Dorando Pietri and the Marathon finish in 1908, Johnny Weissmuller and Ben Johnson (at different ends of the sporting spectrum). It records pictorially a phrase that might possibly receive an airing on television this summer ... but then again, maybe not: "The important thing in the Olympic Games is not the winning but the taking part."
Michael Coleman's Flaming Olympics is an intriguing mixture of information, humour and activities and questions. If this was on television, it would be called "a sideways look". The facts and figures, the characters and events are all there - but all taken rather less than seriously, which is probably a very good thing.
It's the oddities that pepper this book that give it charm: George Robertson's medal for his "Ode to the Greek King", Chris Finnegan's eight pints of beer to produce a urine sample (it's in print so it must be true) and the no-holds-barred rules of Pankration are just a few examples. Sometimes you wince at the jokes, but overall it's a good and easy read, with cartoons of equal wit.
Importantly, all the above titles, and perhaps most significantly The Olympic Spirit, allow the readers to use their imagination. Television does sport a great service, and criticism may be misplaced, but is there such a thing as too much coverage? Grainy pictures of old Olympians excite just as much interest as an event covered by 10 cameras, with instant interviews and 100 replays, and possibly more.
While sport is in the minds of young readers, school libraries might also want to order three new titles in the Dorling Kindersley Young Player series. No other publisher tackles this type of topic better. Graphically clear, textually effective and concise, the books are sure winners. The only question is: why bother with big-name endorsements (which presumably increase the cost) - isn't the DK stamp sufficient to sell the books? Perhaps Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Gary Lineker did have more than a passing involvement with the projects, but was it really necessary?
It's worth noting that The Young Soccer Player contains a Euro 96 poster with a fill-in chart of matches, scores etc. Everything looks set for a brilliant summer, so let's get indoors and turn on the television.