Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happy like soccer by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

This picture book hits so many perfect points it's hard to know where to begin.

Sierra loves to play soccer and is thrilled that's she's been accepted for a team that plays in a real field, with coaches and "shiny girls." But she's sad that her aunt, whom she lives with, can never come to see her play. When her aunt is finally able to come watch her game, it gets rained out. Then Sierra has an idea; have a game at the old field near her home. Finally, the people she knows and loves can see her play in her own neighborhood.

Lauren Castillo's illustrations are beautifully restrained, filling in the emotion that lies behind the text and gently illustrating both the similarities and differences of the girls.

What I love about this story is it has so many levels and it's pitch-perfect. There's Sierra's poetic enjoyment of soccer, her determination to share that love with her family, and her creative thinking outside the box. Sierra has a very different life than the other girls on the team, but she isn't trying to change her family or herself; she wants to involve her own world in the sport she loves. She's a valued player on the team, but she knows she's an outsider and she's ok with that. There isn't a moment where she is suddenly accepted into the tight friendship of the other girls and that's one of the most skillfully handled aspects of this plot. Sierra's life may seem underprivileged to the other girls and she certainly has challenges they don't have to face, but she has friends and family in her own neighborhood and doesn't feel a need to transform herself into the girls she plays with. So many stories about kids who are poor or have broken families seem to show them as coming from an empty or worthless background, with the focus on changing them to fit into a new, better life. In this book, all the girls have friends, family, and a love of soccer in common and even if they're not best friends, they work together so everyone can celebrate what they love.

Verdict: Even kids who don't play sports will love this story with its rich language, exciting sports moments, and creative thinking from a smart, determined girl.

ISBN: 9780763646165; Published 2012 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

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