Pajama Press

Next Round by John Spray, “holds a lot of appeal for young sports fans”—School Library Journal

Posted on June 17th, 2016 by pajamapress

NextRound_Website“Gr 4-8–An intense opening scene: on one side of a bridge, hardened Russian soldiers, on the other, a young Arthur Biyarslanov with his family and 120 other Chechen refugees, hoping to cross through Dagestan to reach Azerbaijan. This biography follows the future Pan-Am Gold Medalist and Olympic hopeful as he fled Chechnya; sought refuge in Baku, Azerbaijan; and finally settled in Toronto, Canada. A gifted athlete, Biyarslanov helped to settle this tumultuous childhood by focusing on sports—first soccer, then boxing. This title has the same emphasis, telling the stories of his athletic achievements in simple, easy to read prose. Spray does well to provide context for young Biyarslanov’s reputation as the “Chechen Wolf,” a fearless fighter (his at-times aggressive behavior is attributed to his father’s death, his experience with the Russian soldiers, and being forced into poverty). Larger, outside conflicts (such as why he, his family, and others were forced to leave Chechnya) are glossed over. Ending chapters explore Biyarslanov’s rivalry with Zsolt Daranyi Jr., his decision to pursue boxing full-time, and his performance in the Pan-Am Games, with a look toward the upcoming Olympics and the future. VERDICT This selection holds a lot of appeal for young sports fans, and its accessible and straightforward storytelling will make it especially tempting to reluctant readers.”