Winner Takes Gold by Eloise Smith

Winner Takes Gold by Eloise Smith – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Friendship, betrayal, loss, ideals, determination.
Children’s book title: Winner Takes Gold.
Children’s author: Eloise Smith.
Genre: Middle Grade/Sports Fiction.
Published by: Chicken House.
ISBN: 9781915026309.
Recommended for children aged: 10-13 year-olds.
First published: Paperback January 2024.
This children’s book is ideal for: Discussing the pursuit of goals.

Winner Takes Gold by Eloise Smith

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Our review:

Thirteen-year-old Pearl has been a gymnast for as long as she can remember, just like her mum was before her. She was also the most amazing coach anyone could have. With her best friend, Ryan, she attends Bagley End Butterflies the gymnastics club run by their mums where Gloria now trains her son and Pearl.

Both of them have a chance to qualify for an elite training camp at Leaping Spires, the National Gymnastics Centre, which could lead to them representing Great Britain at an international competition in Paris. Alongside the problems of achieving her goal, Pearl is having to cope with the loss of her mother who used to coach the two young gymnasts and had every confidence they would be successful.

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After arriving at the camp and training alongside elite gymnasts for the first time, it becomes clear that the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. There is also mention of the curse of Leaping Spires which has resulted in some of Pearl and Ryan’s peers having to leave the camp injured.

With her new friend, Jada-Rae, Pearl begins to work on improving her skills and routines while trying to work out who could be behind the accidents which are becoming worryingly commonplace. With Paris beckoning both Ryan and Pearl find their loyalties tested and their lifelong friendship is beginning to waver. Can Pearl discover the secrets everyone seems to be keeping and make her mum proud or are both tasks beyond her?

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Our verdict:

This is an enjoyable read however I’m not sure it would encourage anyone to follow their dreams and try to become a successful gymnast! As an adventure story for someone who enjoys reading anything sport-related, however, this could very well hit the spot.

The time spent training and competing was written with an obvious understanding of the rarefied world of international athletes. The pressures and expectations, of which I have very little experience other than football at youth academy level, seemed right to me while the lengths some will go to in pursuit of perfection were scarily detailed.

Overall this is a great read but with the caveat of the pandemic being so recent that many children will have suffered loss in a similar way to Pearl. This could be upsetting if discovered in a class setting but could also, in a more private setting be a discussion starter.

Teaching points and book club discussion ideas:

  • This book will be useful for teachers in PSHE lessons to discuss with students the pursuit of goals – especially regarding people who might tell you your goals are unrealistic, and the disappointment of thinking you have let down someone who believes in you.
  • There are lots of opportunities to explore the idea of inclusion when you are within a group whose interests and goals are similar to your own and who understand the highs and lows because they are familiar with both.
  • Emotional Trigger Warning: The main protagonist, Pearl, has recently lost her mother to Covid.
  • Read a sample chapter

Many thanks to Chicken House for the review copy.

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If you like Winner Takes Gold by Eloise Smith you might also like: our reviews of Corey’s Rock by Sita Brahmachari, Our Beautiful Game by Lou Kuenzler, Last Girl In by Cheryl Diane Parkinson, Secret Sister by Sophie McKenzie, Circus Maximus: Rider of the Storm by Annelise Gray and Finding Wonder by Lauren St John.

Browse our list of books for Year 7

About Tracy Wood

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I am a voracious reader and used to be a learning support assistant in a senior school for eight years before leaving to home school my now adult daughter. I have ten grandchildren who I love reading to and spending time with. Reviews by Tracy Wood