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Overview

A lyrical, strikingly illustrated story celebrates the unifying power of soccer.

In a dusty township in South Africa, Ajani and his friends have earned a brand-new, federation-size soccer ball.

They kick. They dribble. They run. They score. These clever boys are football champions! But when a crew of bullies tries to steal their ball, will Ajani and his friends be able to beat them at their own game?

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Overview

A lyrical, strikingly illustrated story celebrates the unifying power of soccer.

In a dusty township in South Africa, Ajani and his friends have earned a brand-new, federation-size soccer ball.

They kick. They dribble. They run. They score. These clever boys are football champions! But when a crew of bullies tries to steal their ball, will Ajani and his friends be able to beat them at their own game?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her debut picture book, Javaherbin crisply relays a simple story that should strike a chord with a wide range of readers. In a barren South African village, Ajani calls for his friends to come out to play soccer. The boy carries the pristine federation-size ball (which he won for being the best reader in class) in a dented pail he'll later use to fetch water. Ford's (Barack) dramatically lit oil paintings convey Ajani's excitement and pride about his new acquisition (“We are real champions, playing with a real ball”). He and his friends are also wary of bullies who roam the streets, and one boy stands guard on a rooftop. When the mean boys arrive, Ajani surreptitiously kicks the soccer ball into the overturned bucket and the oblivious bullies instead steal an old plastic ball nearby, barking, “No playing soccer here or you'll be sorry.” While the level of danger—and deprivation—these boys face may be unfamiliar to many American readers, the quick-moving soccer action, tension, and triumph over the common threat of bullies have near-universal appeal. Ages 6-10. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
We are on a street in South Africa where it is "soccer time," but "the streets are not always safe." Our young narrator has called his friends to play with his prize possession, "a new, federation-size football" declaring "No more old plastic ones." Setting a guard to watch for bullies, they begin the game. Suddenly, a gang on bicycles appears. Hiding the new ball in a bucket, the boys set the old ball on top. If one of the guys knocks it over, they fear their new ball will be taken. Luckily, the taunting gang takes only the old one. The players feel as if they have won the World Cup. Although the streets are not safe, they feel unbeatable when playing together. Their joy in the game shines clearly through the fear. The large size of the book gives Ford's oil paintings room to create portraits of the boys while demonstrating the action of their playing. We also sense the atmosphere, the ramshackle buildings and spare vegetation. The naturalism is modified to emphasize the drama, the intensity of the game, and the danger sensed during their encounter with the gang. The terse text, set in short phrases, gives the words a poetic quality. A note adds factual information. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—Six boys in a small South African town thwart a group of bullies who threaten to stop their soccer game by stealing their prize possession, a federation-size ball. The camaraderie of these youngsters is evident as they play soccer after chores and homework are done in order to find some relief from daily hardships. The bullies arrive suddenly on bikes, even though the boys had planned ahead and posted a lookout atop a nearby building. The author uses repetitive phrasing, "Left is clear. Right is clear," to indicate that the youth are always aware that the streets are not safe. Illustrations rendered in oil are impressive. Large and colorful action shots, many full spread, keep the story moving at a quick pace. Expressive facial features emphasize the tension felt when the hoodlums interrupt the soccer fun. Choose this book with an international bent to supplement other books on bullying, because it will open up another opportunity for conversation and discussion.—Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A group of friends enjoys a game of soccer in the street, fending off bullies and cleverly protecting their prized new regulation soccer ball. Kids who don't read the author's note won't know that this game takes place in South Africa, but they'll certainly see the poverty the kids face, as Ford's oil paintings show dirt streets, patched shacks and clothing that is worn and torn. They'll also recognize the thrill of having something brand new and root for the younger kids to outwit the bullies. They have more trouble following the action. It takes a keen eye to figure out who's who, and the pictures have a static feel that contrasts with first-time author Javaherbin's breathless play-by-play narration. The danger posed by the older boys is unclear but ominous, implied by the fact that one of the boys sits out the game as a guard. The paintings are realistic and evocatively capture the dusty alley and an incongruously lovely sunset, but ultimately neither words nor pictures come fully to life. (Picture book. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763645717
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 4/13/2010
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 6 - 10 Years
  • Lexile: AD350L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 11.70 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Mina Javaherbin was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States, where she is now a practicing architect. She lives in Southern California. This is her first picture book.

A. G. Ford is the illustrator of the New York Times bestseller BARACK by Jonah Winter and MICHELLE by Deborah Hopkinson. He also contributed to OUR CHILDREN CAN SOAR: A CELEBRATION OF ROSA, BARACK, AND THE PIONEERS OF CHANGE by Michelle Cook. He lives in The Colony, Texas.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 6, 2011

    Beautiful book about the beautiful game!

    The game of soccer is known around the world as "the beautiful game." As a huge fan of soccer, I can find countless reasons to call it beautiful. However I really like how the author, Mina Javaherbin, describes soccer in her note on the inside of the back cover:

    "Football is magic to me. Where there is a ball, there's hope, laughter, and strength."

    This story has all of those above elements. In the group of boys playing soccer, those elements of hope, laughter, and strength are present in their friendships with each other and in their strength in facing up to the bullies.

    Not only is this an enjoyable read, but it can also be a great book for discussing how sports can be used to unify a community and help them deal in difficult times. It can also be a good way to discuss how kids in other countries deal with adversity.

    The story is also beautifully illustrated by A.G. Ford. The pictures are large and colorful oil paintings. Many of them are full spread action shots expressing the tensions of the story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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