Goal! By Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by A. G. Ford

 Reviewed by Susan Fry

Most sports books for kids are cheerful tales that spend most of their pages trumpeting fancy equipment and fast plays. It’s rare to find a book that digs below the surface of a sport to uncover a deeper meaning – that games are, in a very real way, a rehearsal for life.

There’s a reason Mina Javaherbin’s Goal has a blurb from Archbishop Desmond Tutu proclaiming the book “Uplifting and inspiring.”

The world of Goal is a challenging one: a poor neighborhood somewhere in South Africa. The houses are shanties of cardboard and corrugated iron. The streets are dirt, and the children running in them are dressed in ragged shorts and t-shirts. The illustrations reflect the poverty with muted brown and dark orange hues.

The social environment is just as challenging. The main character, Ajani, wants to play football (American soccer) before getting water from the well for his family. But none of his friends will come out to play, because, as Ajani says, matter-of-factly, “The streets are not always safe.” Bullies roam the alleys.

Ajami, luckily, has a plan. He persuades his friends to take turns standing guard, so the rest of them can play with his prize possession: a new, federation-size football. “We are real champions,” he says, “playing with a real ball . . . . When we play, we forget to worry. When we run, we are not afraid.” The boys’ joy is clear in the play-by-play descriptions of their game, and even in their disagreements about the rules.

But when the bullies appear, all the boys’ differences disappear, and they form a real team against real danger. They hide the ball under a bucket and desperately pretend they’ve been playing with an old, beat-up ball instead. The boys’ fear is heartbreakingly portrayed in a close-up, two-page spread of one of the boys hiding his face with his hands. The ingenuity of Ajani’s team triumphs, and the bullies steal the old ball, not the new one. Ajani and his team immediately resume play, all fear forgotten in an example of true resiliency, “like it’s the World Cup that we’ve all won.”

There are no adults anywhere in view during this story. The boys solve their problem on their own, and their joy is a mark of their independence and maturity. “When we play together,” Ajani says, “we are unbeatable.” Is there any better lesson for a child to learn from a sport?

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications. You will find links to all of her children’s book reviews on our Toys & Books page.


Comments are closed.

Stella McCartney
30% off Chronicle Books Cookbooks
Shop all Girls Bedding at Serena & Lily.
Land Of Nod: 20% off Wall Art:
Advertise on Sweet Peas & Stilettos