What are the best children's football fiction books?

World Book Day is the perfect time to get stuck into a brilliant children's football fiction book. Planet Sport's Scott Allen, who knows a thing or two about kids' literature, picks out the best ones.

There's a lot of very average football books on bookshelves. Autobiographies from players who even haven't read their own book, picture annuals with players in the wrong kit and trivia books with out-of-date facts. The list goes on and on.

But what about those football fiction books with a really good story and excellent characters you can truly get behind? Well, there are some crackers around. So instead of lazily buying your children a picture-packed football annual with Ronaldo on the cover, why not try some football fiction instead?

Here's a quick list of some excellent children's football fiction books that will last a lifetime. They are also much more reliable than a £30million winger who can't cross a ball for toffee.

Keeper - Mal Peet

Keeper - Mal Peet

Set in the rain forests of South America, Keeper tells the story of how 'El Gato' (The Cat) goes from poor, gangly, talentless schoolboy to one of the world's best goalkeepers.

Destined for a dangerous career in the logging industry, alongside his father, the teenage 'El Gato' begins training with a mysterious goalkeeper deep in the rainforest near his village.

I won't give away the rest of the story but it's incredibly gripping and throws the reader deep into the thick, hot and sweaty jungle. I could almost feel the muggy atmosphere leaking off every page. El Gato's simple world is changing, but is it really for the better?

Parents' guide:

Told in an interview with a fictional journalist format it's is probably best for children over 10. It's not thick with football action, but there's occasional references to matches. It's the story of El Gato's tough life that is most intriguing.

Kick - Mitch Johnson

Kick - Mitch Johnson

Not every football book is about the main character scoring the winning goal in the cup final, or playing for a major team.

Budi's life, sadly, is a million miles away from that. He dreams of becoming a world class footballer but at the moment the closest he gets is stitching their boots in an Indonesian sweatshop.

Budi has an incredibly tough life, but the book is nicely balanced between a loving family and his horrendous career, which is basically modern day slavery.

The football elements are very sparse in this book; kickabouts with friends are the only time we see any match action. Despite it's title, Kick is not really about the football, it's about getting behind Budi and seeing if he can overcome all the tough obstacles that are thrown in front of him.

Parents' guide:

This is on the grittier end of the football scale. There's some violence, child slavery, and a handful of truly unpleasant characters. However, it is bursting with hope and warmth. Ages ten and above will enjoy Kick. It will hopefully open their minds and make them think about where all their expensive boots and kit comes from.

Roy of the Rovers - Tom Palmer, Rob Williams, Ben Willsher

Roy of the Rovers

The 21st century reboot of the classic football hero Roy Race.

Things aren't going well for the once great Melchester Rovers. Bottom of the Football League, facing relegation, bankruptcy and owned by a greedy chairman who has just sold the entire first team! Worse still, local rivals Tynecaster are top of the Premier League, playing in the Champions League and have just signed the world's most expensive player.

Talented 16-year-old Roy is plucked from the obscurity of a local U18 league to join a team of rookie youngsters suddenly thrust into the Melchester first team. The stuff dreams are made of, right?

Well, things are not all well at home with Roy's dad wheelchair-bound following a brain tumour operation and his Mum having to work many jobs to make ends meet.

Can Roy and his new team-mates lift Melchester to glory again? Plus keep an eye out for Roy's younger sister, Rocky, a superstar footballer in the making too.

Parents' guide:

For the fans of Roy back in the day these books will give you a warm glow. Personally I'm from the Spandau Ballet and terrorist coach bomb era - best not to ask. Former Rovers players from the old comic strip Kevin 'Mighty' Mouse and Johnny 'Hardman' Dexter form the Melchester coaching staff. In addition, there's plenty of nods and references to the 'good old days' of football comics.

For new fans it's a cracking introduction to Roy and certainly an exciting and fast-paced read. Importantly, the books are in a series which switch between novel (Palmer) and muscular graphic novels (Williams/Willsher). This should keep the reluctant reader fully engaged. Perfect for under-10s.

Now all we need is a reboot of Hot Shot Hamish

Mighty Dynamo - Kieran Crowley

Mighty Dynamo

Noah Murphy (aka The Mighty Dynamo) dreams of playing in the school's World Cup competition and becoming a professional footballer so his dad doesn't have to work in Australia anymore.

However, due to some very dodgy dealing, Noah finds himself playing for a girls' school. He ropes together an interesting mixed bag of players to play alongside him and together they pit themselves against other Irish school teams all striving for glory.

The Mighty Dynamo is full of thrilling twists and turns, great characters and tug on the heart-string moments. Beautifully illustrated throughout, the detailed player profiles are a great addition too.

Parents' guide:

A good read from 7+ and will comfortably capture the imagination of the later end of the age range (12/13). Lots of references to current real name players and teams will keep your children interested.

Football Academy - Boys United - Tom Palmer

Football academy

Boys United is the first book in Tom Palmer's excellent long-running Football Academy series.

It sets the scene as the left-wing hero, Jake Oldfield, leaves his village team to join a Premier League under-12s team.

Boys United tells the story of Jake's first handful of matches with his new team, as well as making new friends, relationships with team-mates and coaching staff and, most importantly, the strong bond with his father.

There's some great detail both on and off the pitch and it is clear Tom has done some excellent research into what it's like to be part of a real Premier League youth team set-up.

Parents' guide:

Boys United is not a long book, so perfect for football fans who are reluctant readers. It is also an excellent starter for the younger ages 6+.

There's illustrations throughout which help bring the story to life as there are a lot of characters to introduce. Readers shouldn't be surprised by lots of characters in football books, especially when you have 11 players in each team.

The Kick-off - Dan Freeman

Jamie Johnson

The very beginning of the phenomenally successful Jamie Johnson series that has spawned it's own TV series. It's proper boy's own stuff.

JJ is an incredibly talented footballer and is trying to make his way in a new school. His football skills are part of his road to acceptance with his friends and team-mates.

Plenty of football match action, with added expert tips weaved neatly into the story. If I wasn't a big, talentless, lumbering defender, I would now be brilliant at overhead kicks and curling free-kicks.

Parents' guide:

Another short book that is easy for reluctant readers to pick up and read in a couple of days. Plus it's got the added 'already know him off the telly' factor. Perfect for ages 7 and up.

A Kestrel for a Knave - Barry Hines

Ok, this isn't strictly a book about football. It's really about a young Yorkshire lad (Billy) and his growing friendship with a kestrel.

It's another challenging read as Billy suffers at home and school. None more so than in the short chapter about a school football match, which is led by the brutish PE teacher Mr Sugden. He lives out his own football fantasies by playing against the children…and not in a nice way.

Billy has no PE kit, is forced to wear clothes that don't fit him, is put in goal and at the end is forced to have a cold shower by Mr Sugden.

Kes used to be a book that you read for GCSEs, and I was transfixed by the football chapter because it was probably the first time I'd read anything about football in a proper 'school' book.

Parents' guide:

This is slightly for the older end of childhood spectrum 12-16. Kes contains swearing, corporal punishment, bullying and lots of other nasty bits and bobs. So if you want a light cheery read for your child then it isn't for you. Having said that it's a great book, but make sure you read it with some hankies.

Llama United & Llamas Go Large - Scott Allen

Llama United

Some bloke I know wrote these books while banging his head against a wall for three months. According to one eight-year-old they are "not bad".

Llama United and Llamas Go Large are at the bonkers end of the football scale compared to some of the more serious books above.

Telling the story of a team of llamas who find themselves blessed with amazing football talents. Llama United are taken by heroes Tim, Cairo and grumpy Scottish coach McCloud on a cup journey, where they face human teams who will do anything not to be beaten by a load of animals.

In Llamas Go Large they go one better and get involved in the World Cup.

Parents' guide:

Perfect for ages seven and up and those who like something funny. Football can take itself very seriously, Llama United doesn't.

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