The Highest Number in the World

Cover

Written by Roy MacGregor, Illustrated by Genèvieve Després

Tundra Books, 2014

Today, Gabe had made The Spirit, the best hockey team in town.

The plot in a nutshell: A young hockey player learns to appreciate her jersey number

Gabe (short for Gabriella) is a very talented hockey player and hopes to wear number 22 on her jersey, like her favorite women’s hockey player, Hayley Wickenheiser. But when the coach hands out the jerseys, Gabe is given number 9. Coach explains that their jerseys only go up to 20. Disappointed and angry, Gabe stuffs the jersey in the bottom of her closet and tells her parents she’s not going to practice. She tosses and turns in bed, feeling certain that she won’t be as good wearing number 9 as she was wearing 22. Her door opens and her grandmother enters. Grandma sits on the edge of her bed and tells Gabe that she tried to play on a hockey team when she was young, but girls weren’t allowed to play back then. Grandma tells her that number 9 is lucky and that everyone wanted it when she was young, because all the kids in Quebec wanted to be Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard and all the kids everywhere else wanted to be Gordie Howe. She tells her how the number was retired and how Wayne Gretzky doubled up the lucky number to become 99. Gabe proudly puts on her jersey for practice the next morning and looks up into the rafters to imagine her jersey being raised, and she imagines her grandmother standing beside her when it happens.

Such a great picture.

Such a great picture.

Author Roy MacGregor knows his subject when he’s writing about hockey. In 2012, the Hockey Hall of Fame presented him with the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for excellence in hockey journalism. He is well known in Canada for his Screech Owls book series, which centers on a peewee hockey team that solves mysteries. Of course, this book is about so much more than hockey, although I think it will mean more to those who know something about the game and its history. If you’re looking for a book with strong female characters, you’re definitely in the right place. I love the relationship she has with her grandma and the ending may have left me a little misty-eyed.

Illustrator Genèvieve Després has an artistic style that blends beautifully with this story. Her artwork, in gouache, plays up the colors most prevalent in hockey logos, with lots of bright reds and blues. Although her character faces are not overly detailed, the characters manage to be distinctive and likeable. Her work on Gabe’s drawing looks perfect, as though it truly came from the hands of an enthusiastic 9 year old hockey fan. The illustrations give more weight to the impact of Gabe’s conversation with her grandmother and make the final image so lovely.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that knowing the history of something you’re involved in makes your involvement more meaningful.

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