Sportopedia: An Illustrated Introduction to the World of Sport is a fantastically detailed and comprehensive overview of more than 60 sports from around the world. The brush and ink style illustrations are bright and engaging, adding a classic comic book feel that will appeal to a wide range of readers.
Each page is packed with information, mostly laid out in separate boxes and as captions or labels on the illustrations. This dramatically improves the readability of what is essentially a very text-heavy book, making it a brilliant introduction to encyclopaedias and other dense nonfiction books. The page for each sport begins with a title followed by a topic sentence and then an introductory paragraph, which provides an excellent model for nonfiction writing in the classroom. Mark Long‘s labelled illustrations and their labels also offer ample opportunity for discussing the interaction between pictures and text, and how this can further readers’ comprehension.
The sports people depicted throughout are diverse in terms of skin colour, and the male to female ratio is roughly equal. However, I feel that opportunities for challenging gender stereotypes have been missed. For example, every player drawn on the page for football is male. While the language used is deliberately gender-neutral, the illustrations send the message that football is still a male sport. Given the success and greater recognition of women’s football in recent years, this could have been a good opportunity to highlight that and ensure that young girls are able to see themselves represented in the world’s most popular sport. The inverse can be found on the Volleyball and Netball pages, where every player is shown as female.
Although there is mention of the Paralympic Games, I would argue that the representation of sports for people with disabilities or different abilities does not quite go far enough. Two pages cover the Paralympic Games, as opposed to the four each given to the Olympic Games and the Winter Olympics. Wheelchair Basketball only receives a small box in one corner of the pages for Basketball; given that the sport has at least 100,000 players worldwide and is watched by millions during the Paralympic Games, I think it has earned its own entry into the Sportopedia, especially considering that Darts receives an entire page’s coverage!
However, I wouldn’t let the issues with representation discussed above prevent me from using the book in the classroom. Sportopedia is a great nonfiction book that would serve well as a model or stimuli for children to create their own engaging nonfiction texts. I would be sure to discuss the issues with the children, and perhaps ask children to create the ‘missing pages’ featuring such sports as Women’s Football or Wheelchair Basketball. This is also an excellent book to have available in the school library for those children who prefer nonfiction books.
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