2014 sees the start of numerous events commemorating the centenary of World War One. Of all wars (and there’ve been a few, as we all know) this one is the most discussed, documented, romanticised and indelibly-etched on the British psyche of them all. In terms of literature, finding something new to write about is a big ask. Finding something new to write about and writing it for children who have difficulty in reading, is an even bigger ask. However, Tom Palmer’s forthcoming new book for dyslexia-friendly Barrington Stoke, Over the Line, manages to do both and manages to do them superbly.
Over the Line by Tom Palmer
Cover illustration by Ollie Cuthbertson
Over the Line tells the story of footballer Jack Cock. At the outbreak of the First World War, Jack had just signed for the one and only Huddersfield Town from Brentford. A promising centre-forward, he lived and breathed football.
Jack Cock on a trade card c 1915
(© 99 Years & Counting Part 1
As is usual in Tom Palmer’s books, Jack’s story is told simply but in a style that captivates the reader and draws them in from the start. In this title, Palmer seamlessly mixes fact with fiction. Over the Line begins with Cock’s debut match against Grimsby Town on December 19th (fact). A woman steps out of the crowd and pushes a piece of paper into his hand. ‘No doubt you can make money on the football field,’ it said, ‘but there’s only one field where you can get honour.’ Fact or fiction? It doesn’t matter; the reader is already hooked.
The woman, it transpired, was the widow of Larrett Roebuck, another Town player who had been killed in action two months previously. Roebuck’s widow, like many others (including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) was protesting against the continuation of the football league during the war. Many felt footballers should be fighting, not playing. We share young Jack’s dilemma as he has to choose between football or enlisting in the army. In the end, he gets to do both and joins the 17th Service Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment or the Footballers’ Battalion.
Soon after enlisting, Jack and his fellow professional footballers, from teams throughout Britain, are sent to France. Here we are in well-known territory: No Man’s Land, trench warfare, death and destruction, heroism and gallantry. One of Palmer’s strengths as a writer is that he never forgets his audience. The descriptions are kept realistic without dwelling on the horror for horror’s sake. Throughout it all, Jack Cock’s story shines through.
Over the Line is a perfect class read to accompany any KS2 and KS3 (Y7&8) topic on the period. It’s also an engaging read for football fans of any age (especially Huddersfield Town fans like me). In my opinion, it deserves to sit alongside War Horse and Private Peaceful on any school bookshelf.
Publication date: March 2014
Thank you to Tom Palmer for sending me a proof copy. For more details about Over the Line contact email@example.com
Walter Tull’s Scrapbook by Michaela Morgan. Tull, one of the first black soldiers to be made into an officer in the army, was also in the Footballers’ Battalion. He played for Tottenham Hotspur.