As the dust settled on Port-au-Prince, hope was the last thing anybody could see.
When the earth shook, his whole neighborhood disappeared. Now a boy and his mother are living in the soccer stadium, in a shelter made of tin and bedsheets, with long lines for food and water. But even with so much sorrow all around, he finds a child playing with a soccer ball made of rags. Soon many children are caught up in the magic of the game that transports them out of their bleak surroundings and into a world where anything is possible.
Then the kids are given a truly wonderful gift. A soccer ball might seem simple, but really it's a powerful link between a heartbroken country's past and its hopes for the future. Jesse Joshua Watson has created an inspiring testament to the strength of the Haitian people and the promise of children.
"When the earth shook and took away my neighborhood, I thought I would never be happy again," opens Watson's (I and I Bob Marley) touching story set in postearthquake Haiti. After the narrator and his mother assemble a shelter in a soccer stadium, the boy's spirits soar when he and other children play a spontaneous game of soccer with a ball made of rags. A kind man, who remembers watching Haitian soccer great Manno Sanon score goals in that same stadium, gives them a soccer ball that bears Sanon's autograph. When the children thank him, he replies, "Thank you for reminding me why there is hope for Haiti." In Watson's evocative, sunlit acrylic paintings, optimism radiates from the kids' faces. Though the makeshift village is almost too cheerful, Watson doesn't avoid the harsh realities of the disaster (an early scene shows a crowd jostling for food from U.N. peacekeepers), and his tropical palette underscores the hopeful nature of the book's message. As the children play beneath a brilliant aqua sky, their future feels bright indeed. Ages 5–8. (Oct.)
- Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Watson makes the recent tragic earthquake in Haiti meaningful for youngsters by narrating in the voice of a young victim. His whole neighborhood destroyed, the boy and his mother, like so many others, have built a home from sheets in the soccer stadium. Amid the chaos, he sees a girl kicking a ball made of rags, and asks to play. Soon a game begins, and hunger is forgotten. A passing man recalls watching Haiti's most famous player, Manno Sanon, score in a game in this field. He presents the children with a real soccer ball, signed by Sanon. He gives the precious ball to them because they are, he says, the future hope for Haiti. As he plays, the boy dreams of wearing Haiti's uniform in this stadium some day, and scoring a goal. Watson's mainly full page, naturalistic acrylic paintings, outlined in crisp black lines, successfully depict the field, the shelters, and the people. We feel resignation, determination, and above all the children's enthusiasm for the game and a better future. An author's note adds background information. "A donation will be made to Save the Children's Haiti Emergency Relief Fund." Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—The young boy who narrates this story lives in a neighborhood that was destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. His family joins several others to set up makeshift housing in a soccer stadium. Before long, the children start playing soccer with a ball made of rags. Their high spirits in the face of disaster are rewarded when a man offers them a real soccer ball signed by Manno Sanon, a beloved Haitian player. Using concise but rhythmic language, this inspiring tale is told in a simple and straightforward manner. The pictures, acrylic paintings with bold colors and strong lines, are attractive and accessible but not especially distinctive. Edwidge Danticat's Eight Days: A Story of Haiti (Scholastic, 2010) is also about the earthquake, and it is more artistic but darker in tone. Some proceeds from both books are donated to relief efforts. Overall, this is a didactic but worthwhile book.—Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL
Jesse Joshua Watson lives in Port Townsend, Washington, with his wife and their two sons. In addition to writing and illustrating books, exhibiting fine art, and teaching art to kids, Jesse plays soccer religiously, music occasionally, and surfs the chilly waters of the Northwest as often as he can.