Thursday, June 12, 2014

Two Books About Soccer - the game of the moment

Just in time for the beginning of the 2014 World Cup, here are two interesting soccer books for young readers.

Soccer Star by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Renato Alarcão is set in Brazil, where this year's World Cup is being played.  Young Paulo loves soccer and hopes to become a soccer star like his heroes Garrincha, Pelé and Ronaldo.  Each day, however, before any soccer game can be played, Paulo must walk his sister Maria to school.  Afterwards, as he makes his way to work, he visits his fellow team mates where they work.  Carlos shines shoes, Jose dives for money, Givo is working on carnival floats, and Paulo works with Senhor da Silva on his small fishing boat.

After work, the soccer game begins. Whenever Paulo and his friends play, Maria begs to be allowed to join in, but the answer is always "not this time."  One evening, when Jose injures himself in a game, Paulo thinks it may be time to give Maria the chance she has been waiting for.  Can Maria play and score as well as she thinks she can?  

In this multilayered story the reader is introduced to Paulo and his mother and sister.  The family lives in poverty, like all of Paulo's friends and even though they are really just children, the boys must leave school and work at a young age to help their families survive.

Soccer is a beloved sport around the world and that is true for Brazil as well.  At the end of a long day of work, playing a game of soccer with friends provides a bit of escape from the poverty surrounding them.  For Paulo, soccer also provides a dream of excaping that poverty.  Many of Brazil's best soccer players were also poor kids who worked and loved to play soccer with friends at the end of the day, so on some level, Paulo's dream seems believable.

Paulo has a strong sense of friendship with the other players on his team, taking the time to stop by and see each one, on this day even sharing his breakfast cheese buns with them as he goes along.

(Spoiler Alert)
The fourth layer of Soccer Star breaks the gender barrier of no girls on the team when they vote to let Maria play and it turns out she can play with the best of them.

What a great story for young readers.  To see dreams kept alive despite the difficult circumstances in which these kids live is really inspirational.  The positive message that you can overcome difficulties is strong and hope rules the day throughout the story.  Javaherbin doesn't sugar coat the poverty in this honestly told narrative, however.  The realistic ink illustrations add much to the enjoyment of Soccer Star.

The Soccer Fence: A Story of Friendship, Hope and Apartheid in South Africa by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson begins when apartheid is still in effect and blacks and whites live separately.   The story is narrated by a young black boy who loves soccer, but must play with a mishapened ball in a rocky dirt field in an unnamed Johannesburg township.

When he goes to work with his mother at a house in the wealthier white part of Johannesburg, he can see some white boys playing soccer with a round ball on a grassy field.

Then, it is announced that Nelson Mandela has been released from prison and although apartheid finally ends, it doesn't mean the fences automatically come down.  One day, the narrator gets a chance to kick the ball back to the while kids, and even though one white kid seems to realize what a good player he is, they still won't let him play.

But thing change when Nelso Mandela is elected president of South Africa.  And in 1996, when the African Cup of Nations is played with intergrated soccer teams, it seems that that race barriers will finally come down once and for all.  But can it bring together two soccer loving kids from different sides of the fence?

It is hard to believe that there is a whole generation of young readers who live in a world where apartheid officially no longer exists.  All the more reason to have books like The Soccer Fence.

Using the story of two different soccer-loving kids, the author does an excellent job of using the game as a metaphor for apartheid.  There are fences that separate the world of black and white South Africans; a nameless black narrator representing all black South Africans and a nameless blond haired white child representing the ruling South Africans, nameless until the end; a round robust soccer ball as opposed to the weak mishapened ball; a green fireld vs a dirt field.  The differences are glaring and the reader can feel the narrator's desire and disappointment each time he asks if he can play with the white kids and is completely ignored.

Even the illustrations, done with pencil and acrylic paint, build on the feeling of separation, of the haves and have nots, until the end.  Jessie Joshua Watson uses a palatte of hot sun-burnt yellows and oranges for the black neighborhood of the narrator and contrasts its with cool bright greens and blues of the white neighborhood, furthering the metaphorical nature of this story.

Bildner also includes a short history of apartheid and South Africa's racist policies and the role soccer played in bringing the country together, thanks to Nelson Mandela's love of sports.  There is also a list of books, internet websites and even a film for further exploration.  An apartheid timeline is also included.

These two picture books are excellent works for introducing young readers to the different impact the game of soccer has had in two coountries the average kid may not be familiar with.

These books are recommended for readers age 6+
These books were borrowed from a friend


  1. I think my 8 year-old son would love these book –such a great way to blend reading with sports, and with perfect timing, of course. My son's been watching the games and so wants to go outside to play soccer afterwards! Thanks so much!

    1. I forgot to mention I came here through the Kid Lit Hop :-) Thanks for setting it up!


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