Allayne L. Webster (text) Amanda S. Clarke (illus.), Sam’s Surfboard Showdown Scholastic Australia, Feb 2018, 96pp., $12.99 (pbk) ISBN 9781742991894
This easy-to-read chapter book focuses on a sporting competition; a relatable topic for middle primary students. Protagonist Sam Sumner is the best at most things at Robe Primary School – he’s the best cricketer, the best Nippers kid, the best mathematician and (according to his own assessment) one of the best-looking boys. But when new kid Finn Hester comes to town, Sam finds himself challenged on all these fronts. When a Nippers competition is announced with the winner receiving a surfboard signed by the legendary Mick Fanning, Sam becomes obsessed with beating Finn and winning.
The book is co-written by step-sisters Webster and Clarke and is part of Scholastic’s program of diversity in literature, featuring Indigenous creators and characters in contemporary Australian stories. Clarke, an Aboriginal artist, has created an attractive beach-themed dot painting cover complemented by decorative chapter headings and dinkuses throughout the book.
Aboriginal culture is backgrounded in the story with Sam’s Dad employed by the local council, working to protect the land and honour the original landowners, the Boandik people. I particularly liked all the aunts and uncles who appeared to cheer Sam on in the big race. The sub-plot about Sam and Finn’s mothers indulging in a little competitive baking was a lot of fun too – would’ve liked to have been one of the kid tasters!
I was curious to see how this tale would resolve given Sam’s desperation to win takes up most of the story. Without giving away the plot, the ending is both surprising and satisfying. Having had sporty children in the target age group, I know this idea of winning and losing in competitive sport can be a huge issue. (It’s not easy to forget the heartbreak that followed the third consecutive grand final loss for my daughter’s under 11s basketball team!) It’s great to see a story that shows you can grow and change and that winning isn’t everything.
Reviewed by Heather Gallagher