Books

Book review: Inspired by Semenya and Amla

2018-09-19 12:18

The Road to Glory series is intended for younger readers (ages 10 to 14), but is a great quick read for any age group. The books focus on South Africa’s legendary athletes and you have to ask why no one thought of doing this sooner.

The fifth book and the first female athlete in the series is, of course, the indomitable Mokgadi Caster Semenya, who’s name, interestingly enough, means “the guider” in Sepedi.

The book starts off with Caster winning gold at the Rio Olympics and then backtracks to the dusty roads of Limpopo to show where she grew up, and where her passion for athletics was born and nurtured.

Throughout the book, references to Semenya’s gender are highlighted, from being teased in school to being snickered at by athletes on the track. But it’s her responses to these comments and taunts that provides the book’s beautiful lesson: be who you are no matter what anybody else thinks.

At one point, I was almost in tears as Jeremy Daniel describes the International Association of Athletics Federation’s horrific treatment of Semenya when she was in her early 20s.

The Road to Glory series are a group of books aimed at younger readers, with the idea to inspire the youth through South Africa's sporting heroes. Picture: Supplied

The way Daniel builds up to a particular event or life-changing decision is engaging and intriguing, yet simple to follow, which makes the eventual pay-off satisfying. Then the ending leaves even jaded hearts like mine feeling inspired and ready to conquer whatever the world throws at them.

The fourth book in the series is on cricketer Hashim Amla, following on from AB de Villiers, Wayde van Niekerk and Siya Kolisi.

It begins in the middle of the action as Amla strides to a record-breaking, history-making triple century in England, cementing him as an all-time Protea great. From that peak, the reader is transported back to Tongaat in KwaZulu-Natal, where Amla is playing street cricket in his school uniform. The journey to the Amla we know today is traversed in 18 easy-to-read chapters that are concise and engaging, with bits of dialogue thrown in to either emphasise a point or intrigue the reader.

The book, like the one on Semenya, allows curiosity and learning to flower within young readers’ minds. At the end of the books, there are a number of classroom activities that allow for more research, deeper learning and (dare I say it) fun comprehension skills.

The themes that run through the book focus on Amla’s deep-seated religious beliefs in relation to cricket, his close relationship with his older brother and family, as well as his thought process when faced with decisions and incidents that have defined his cricketing career.

Daniel does an immense service by not shying away from the reason Amla does not wear the SA Breweries logo, or from that incident in Sri Lanka where he was called a terrorist.

The Road to Glory series is a great initiative that allows younger readers to engage with and be inspired by South Africa’s sports icons in a fun and easy way.


The books zoom in on the athletes as people and not just as sports stars. Amla is painted as a calm, methodical person, and Semenya as quiet and strong-willed.

Family relationships are also brought to the fore. For Semenya, it’s her mother and grandmother who continually keep her grounded and make her feel at ease. For Amla, it’s his father and brother who provide advice and a sense of calm when he faces tough decisions.

The importance of training hard, getting knocked down, growing and changing to become a better sportsperson is a theme that is explored through the athlete’s coaches and mentors, emphasising how they are never scared to make a change to their charges’ routines and regimens when they feel the need to.

Both stories start with a tale from childhood that shows the beginning of their love for their sport. They then track each career from school through the youth ranks and finally to becoming global superstars with all the controversy and glory that comes with the limelight.

The books are useful and inspiring, but could we get more women in the series, please?

Road to Glory series

Road to Glory: Caster Semenya by Jeremy Daniel

Jonathan Ball Publishers

110 pages

R99 at takealot.com

5/5

Road to Glory: Hashim Amla by Jeremy Daniel

Jonathan Ball Publishers

127 pages

R99 at takealot.com

4/5

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December 9 2018