July 2, 2014 § 1 Comment

Soccer Star by Mina JavaherbinWe are not a sports-watching family (my husband jokes that he lost TV sports in marriage). But then came the World Cup. All four of us are possessed over the World Cup, and I can’t entirely explain it. I mean, it can’t just be the hotness of the players, the incredible headers that out of nowhere tip a speeding ball into the net; the non-stop, pinball-like passing. We scream at the TV (“Mommy, you are using your outside voice!” I’ve been reprimanded more than once); we jump up and down and hug each other over goals; we run into the backyard and kick the ball at halftime; and we despair when the US team fights the fight of its life and comes up short.

The World Cup will end, but I hope our family’s new love of soccer will not. Both kids are more excited than ever for their own soccer season this fall (although JP reports that he does not think he would like to be as good as the World Cup players, because “it looks very dangerous out there”). In the meantime, we will be reading some of the fantastic soccer-themed books that have popped up this year. Our favorite of these is Soccer Star (Ages 4-8), by Mina Javaherbin (illustrations by Renalto Alarcao), a picture book which not only exudes the excitement of soccer, but places it in a valuable cultural context.

As excited as we Americans get about soccer, we are far from the devotees that span the globe. Perhaps nowhere is soccer more beloved than in Brazil, home to this year’s World Cup: a place where soccer is, not simply a sporting event, but a fighting chance for its youth to rise above the poverty of their country. As Soccer Star gently reminds us, the dream of being a soccer star in Brazil is a dream where much is at stake.

Amid poetic descriptions of the sport, Soccer Star is at heart a story of two siblings with grit, passion, and the open-mindedness to challenge convention. Our narrator, the older brother, Paulo, must forgo school to work in a local fishing business, supporting his single mother who is already working long hours. Paulo learns math from his school-going younger sister, Maria—and, in turn, he teaches her the soccer skills he perfects each evening, when his pals come together from their respective jobs to play soccer by the sea. As Paulo and Maria make their way through the neighborhood to start their respective mornings—dribbling a soccer ball down steps and around bends—Paulo introduces us to his talented teammates, who will transform their practical skills by day (shoe polishing, set painting) to glory on the field (“fancy footwork,” “dancing with the ball”).

Soccer Star by Mina Javaherbin

In a twist at the story’s end, it is little sister Maria who shines through as the next generation of soccer players. When a boy on the team gets injured, Maria asks (not for the first time) if she can replace him, anticipating the usual answer: the team is just for boys; “not this time.” But big bro Paulo (LOVE this kid) makes an impassioned case on his sister’s behalf, and, when it comes to a vote, the team “votes for change.” Not only does Maria play, but she scores the winning goal. Those of us glued to the TV recently will attest to the power of a rookie sub, sweeping onto the field at the last minute to nail a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the team to victory. You know what? I may have just figured out why I love this sport so much.

I’ll share Paulo’s closing words, set against a darkening sky over tiny one-story huts crowded together on a hill beside the sea. You can feel for yourself the hope, the pride, the dream.

I am Paulo Marcelo Felliciano,
the captain of this team.
No storm, fall, or useless old rule
can keep us from a win.

Our fans will one day call us the stars.
We will light every home in Brazil.

Other Favorite Picture and Chapter Books About Soccer:
Goal! by Mina Javaherbin & A.J. Ford (Ages 3-6)
Young Pele: Soccer’s First Star, by Lesa Cline-Ransome & James Ransome (Ages 4-8)
The Soccer Fence: A Story of Friendship, Hope & Apartheid in South Africa, by Phil Bildner & Jesse Joshua Watson (Ages 6-10)
National Geographic Kids: Everything Soccer (Ages 6-10)
Magic Tree House #52: Soccer on Sunday, by Mary Pope Osborne (Ages 6-9)

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