Budding young rugby ‘warriors’ inspire book series

The “Little Warrior Momo and Rugby” picture book series is based on the experiences of a Hangzhou children’s rugby team. Provided to China Daily

With rugby’s popularity on the rise in China, a recently published children’s book series shines a light on the appeal of the sport and the positive values ​​it offers children.

Little Warrior Momo and Rugby hit shelves on March 1, aiming to capitalize on the oval ball sport’s growing participation figures, particularly in eastern China, where rugby will further boost its profile when it is featured on the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games in the capital. from Zhejiang province.

Emphasizing rugby’s core values ​​of courage, teamwork, discipline and respect, a message on the cover dedicates the books to “all children who persist with their dreams”.

The fictional rugby team described in the books is called the Clovers, inspired by a real-life children’s team of the same name that originally began training in Hangzhou in 2019, and in April 2020 was officially registered as Hangzhou Xingchuang Culture and Sports. Development Co. Limited.

Founded by five parents and coach Evan, also known as Huang Chongwen, the club is based in the Binjiang district of Hangzhou and began participating in competitions at the city’s Huanglong Stadium and later in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.

“Our team has expanded from nine kids to 17 now,” Evan told China Daily in an exclusive interview.

During its short existence, the club, like many sporting organisations, has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The parents, however, persevered with the project, with their journey now documented in the picture book series, the brainchild of husband and wife Zhang Peng and Zhang Yanfei.

“It took us two to three months to sort out the first draft. We plan to divide the story into six volumes of short stories and put them together into a series of picture books,” said Zhang Peng.

Momo, the protagonist, was inspired by her own son who plays in the Clovers team.

“I’m a computer engineer and it was our first time writing a book. We had no experience writing children’s books and we were busy with our work, so we could only create stories in our spare time.” Zhang Peng explained.

“I would go to work during the day and write with my wife at night. From the first draft to the final draft we did seven or eight revisions. Sometimes we had to wait until midnight to communicate with the illustrator and editor.

“The picture books start with Momo’s third birthday and tell the story of how he grew up playing rugby, overcoming various difficulties and finally becoming a little warrior.”

Each book ends with a breakdown of basic rugby knowledge to educate readers.

The Clovers team is presented as a cute character in the shape of a four-leaf clover to make the story more attractive to children.

“In this way, we want to tell our son how much mom and dad love him and how proud we are. I hope that when our son recalls these memories one day, it will be a story of working together, a story of perseverance and dreams, not the epidemic. that is deeply rooted in children’s minds,” said Zhang Peng.

After many rejections, Peng and Yanfei finally found a publisher at the Beijing Institute of Technology, with copies initially distributed to children and kindergartens.

“Within a short time, a total of 3,500 copies were sold,” said Qin Qingrui, head of the parent-child education branch of the publisher.

“Our press tried to distribute the books on Xinhua Bookstore and online platforms like Dangdang and Tmall. We also tried Douyin for live broadcast promotion.

“This series is the first set of children’s picture books on rugby written by amateur authors, so from that perspective it’s very significant.

“The stories work very well, they convey the rugby spirit of courage, competition and teamwork, which is educational.”

During the upcoming Asian Games, the rugby competition will be held at Hangzhou Normal University’s Cangqian Campus Stadium from September 22-24.

Coach Evan is confident that the Games will help expose rugby to a wider audience.

“The Asian Games can help develop this sport and give our young players more opportunities to train and compete,” he said.

Fang Xiaoying in Hangzhou contributed to this story.

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