Meredith Costain and Danielle McDonald (illustrator), Goal Power (Ella Diaries #13), Scholastic Australia, July 2018, 144 pp., $12.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781743818060
I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to reading this. Probably because I’m not an 8 year old girl. But Ella and her effervescent chatter won me over.
Goal Power is the latest installment in the Ella Diaries series. Ella and her friends decide to set up a lunchtime soccer club. Her diary entries chart the excitement of hatching a plan and working on a project with her BFFs, as well as the challenges of picking teams, navigating playground politics, and things not always turning out the way she hopes.
The book’s approachable layout makes it easy and fun to churn through — with lots of white space, humorous illustrations, and handwriting-ish font. The ‘Dear Diary’ format gives it a sense of intimacy that would be engaging for young and reluctant readers. Ella is a likeable and familiar character. Her nattering about friends and family, excitements and disappointments, and hopes and plans will be familiar to anyone who spends time with excitable primary-age girls.
Reading this really made me think about girls. How we, as adults, write for them, market books to them, try to engage them and, in the process, inspire or constrain them. The Ella Diary series is unashamedly girly. There’s no shortage of hearts, flowers, and playground drama. But there are some good messages wrapped in its pretty packaging. I was immensely relieved that the Ella character inside the book is much more of a go-getter than the sweety-pie picture on the cover would lead you to believe. The book is peppered with her feisty humour, and it subverts a few gender stereotypes. The girls are active and playing sport, and they are a little bit self-deprecating about being ‘girly’. In my favourite scene they use sarcasm to disarm the boys who claim the oval is ‘strictly for boys only,’ telling them that they are picking daisies, when they are obviously playing soccer. Whilst it’s not really suited to reading aloud to a big group, Goal Power could certainly be used in small groups or one-on-one for discussions to develop critical literacy and general awareness of gender stereotypes.
As I neared the end of the book, I felt a bit ripped off that there was no significant problem or twist. Ella experiences minor disappointments along the way — but I felt like it was a missed opportunity, writing in the confessional form of a diary, but not really delving into strong emotions. From my adult vantage point, I wanted things like tension between friends and needing to be resilient to be explored in more depth. I found that, even if I put my teacherish obsession with social/emotional learning aside, the story still felt a bit diluted. I just wished it had a more engaging narrative arc with a big climax.
But maybe I’m missing the point. Perhaps fans of the series just want to get caught up in Ella’s friendly chatter, rather than grapple with the darker sides of tween life. Overall, Ella Diaries – Goal Power is a rollicking read. It finishes on a feel-good note of pride and camaraderie, and will most likely leave fans of the series wanting more.
Reviewed by Liz Patterson