September 24, 2007

Hockey Book Reviews: Clancy With The Puck

Raincoast Books 2007's entry in their annual children's hockey book marketplace is sure to be a huge, huge hit, as always.

The amazingly beautiful new title Clancy with the Puck continues the publisher's popular children's book franchise, following previous releases such as Gretzky's Game, The Greatest Goal, The Goalie Mask, Number Four, Bobby Orr!, A Hero Named Howe and the incredibly successful franchise starter My Leafs Sweater.

It's actually quite ingenious. These books follow the same formula: A good story, beautiful artwork and the high quality production that is Raincoast's trademark. They tend to be of historical reflection, which interests parents and allows for a great family moment to pass on the joy of both reading and hockey. The books are always popular under Christmas trees for years to come. And the publisher still has every public and elementary school library in Canada to sell at least one copy to. Raincoast's incredibly successful children's franchise will likely churn out new titles every year for some time to come.

2007 is a bit an experiment for Raincoast. While all the previous holdings were written by super-writer Mike Leonetti, new writer Chris Mizzoni steps in on this title. He also illustrates the book. Leonetti does return with a new children's title for 2007, Maple Leafs A-Z, which will be reviewed shortly.

Mizzoni doesn't miss a step, and Raincoast spares no resources, as the two teamed up to produce the most beautiful hockey book I've perhaps ever seen. The artwork and color is simply amazing, and appeals to both adults and children. For the very young the artwork tells its own story, allowing youth to fall in love with books and with reading and making their own stories up as they flip the pages.

Because of the artwork and production, I so wanted to love this book and give it the instant classic designation before I even read the story. And that's where I'm troubled just a touch by the book.

Mizzoni copies the classic Casey at the Bat, the 1888 baseball/literary classic by poet Ernest Thayer. Our hero on the ice is named Clancy Cooke, and is based loosely on the real life "King" Clancy. Our overconfident protagonist cockily lives through great success, but when the Stanley Cup is on the line he comes up just short.

Only as an adult did I understand the greatness of the original Casey, but as a youth I never did. I only really enjoyed the Walt Disney adaptation which ends with a happy ending. Mizzoni's Clancy sticks with the original stencil, basically ending the book with the surprise failure.

I wondered how today's kids would take to this book, so I took it to them. The results were consistent: the beautiful artwork instantly grabbed their attention, and the happy story sucked them in only to be shocked by the ending. Most kids didn't get it, and the few that were more didn't like the character after all. He was too "arrogant" said one girl.

So I'm afraid I can't quite give this book the Hall of Fame status that I want to. Mizzoni's poetry is really clever, although occasionally a bit too wordy for youngsters. As great as the artwork is and as captivating as the story starts out, the sudden and unexpected ending leaves can leave a young reader no longer in love with the book.

One more note, the book also comes with a DVD that brings the story to life on your TV or computer screens. I found the kids were more receptive to the story in this medium, although that may be a sign of the times. The animated short is narrated by legendary Hockey Night In Canada commentator Bob Cole. It may have just been me or my copy, but I did find the DVD difficult to get out of the plastic pocket. Be sure to help your child get the disc out on the initial viewing.

Bottom line, you have to check out this book. It is that beautiful! I know it is proudly displayed in my office.

Overall Book Rating: 4/5 All Star


Crystal September 24, 2007 at 7:45 PM  

Thanks for the review Joe. Just an FYI for your readers there is a podcast with Chris Mizzoni the author/illustrator of Clancy with the Puck on the Clancy website. Visit it at There is also additional downloadable content that will be added to over the coming months.

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