“Matthew”, said his mother, “you are drawing all the time. You need to play sports. Sports are good for you.”
Matthew drew a picture of a purple tyrannosaurus.
Teamwork is a classic Robert Munsch book, one filled with kids wholly comfortable in their own skin, frantic parents, and the familiar artwork provided by frequent collaborator Michael Martchenko.
Matthew is a boy who loves to draw and paint, but his parents think he should concentrate on sports instead, extolling the many benefits of sports as being good for Matthew, teaching him teamwork, and forcing him to pay attention to something besides his art for once. Reaching the end of their rope when Matthew continues to draw instead of paying attention to them, his parents sign him up for baseball.
Once on the field, Matthew continues to focus on the art that he loves rather than playing the game of baseball. A ball comes near his foot, and he draws on his shirt; a ball flies by his head, and he draws on his shoe. When he finally notices a ball, what he really sees is another canvas for his art. Once he throws the now beautified ball back to his team, they realize his talent, and Matthew is soon drawing on all the balls and uniforms. The team loves their new colourful art/balls and start throwing them around to share with others. The coach soon realizes that Matthew’s art is both bringing his team together and improving their throwing skills. Recognizing that he is never going to be a baseball player, Matthew opts to become Team Artist instead.
Teamwork ultimately offers a not so subtle commentary on the ever increasing societal focus on sports as the ultimate solution to any problem and as a must for all children. In reality, children should have a variety of physical, artistic, and mental outlets - and are really only going to be good at the ones they actually enjoy anyway. Teamwork is a story about how kids should be allowed to follow their passions as they’re going to do it anyway! It also drives home the message that art can be something that brings people together, too, as evidenced by the artwork Michael provides for his teammates and coaches at the end.
The full-page watercolours by Martchenko are refreshing and detailed and evoke a calming sense of familiarity to anyone who has read books by Robert Munsch before. In terms of representation, although the baseball teams have players of different genders and include people of colour, all four main characters and all the players’ parents shown are white.
Teamwork would be a welcome addition to any library or home that has loved Robert Munsch books before. Although it offers nothing groundbreaking in terms of story, it is a comfortable read and teaches children to be true to what they love.
Mê-Linh Lê is a librarian in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with three young children.