Spring Sports Star Stupendously

By Lee Littlewood

May 12, 2014 6 min read

Many, many children play baseball and soccer in the springtime. These new books will tickle youngsters who love to kick, run, throw and catch.

"Goal!" by Sean Taylor; photography by Caio Vilela; Henry Holt and Co.; 40 pages; $17.99.

Newer soccer players can experience the game globally in this photo-filled, action-packed picture book. They'll learn how popular the sport is worldwide.

"There are more than 6,000 different languages spoken on our planet. But children all over the world understand soccer," explains Taylor.

Photos of soccer-playing children in Ghana, Tanzania, Jordan, China, New Zealand and the U.S. are a great equalizer, proving to readers that kids all over the world like to have fun.

Colorful sidebars highlight each country shown with informational tidbits. In Pakistan, for example, cricket has been the favorite sport, until recently, when their boys' under-16 team won the South Asian Football Federation Championships.

A truly entertaining, colorful ode to soccer, "Goal!" is a fun, informative way to let young fans know kids around the world over are similar to them.

"Soccer Star" by Mina Javaherbin; illustrated by Renato Alarcao; Candlewick; 40 pages; $16.99.

This lovely sing-songy tale introduces a boy named Paulo who practices soccer on the beach every day after working on a fishing boat in Brazil. His friends also work hard, but there's still time to dribble and kick the ball daily among them. Paulo's little sister also plays soccer but isn't allowed on the boy's team until one important game when another player is hurt and she scores!

A beautiful ode to Brazil and the determination and hard work of its soccer-playing youth, "Soccer Star" is an uplifting story of transcending expectations and being brave enough to light up the world. Alarcao's gentle watercolors are wonderful, too.

"The Soccer Fence" by Phil Bildner; illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson; Putnam Juvenile; 40 pages; $16.99.

Also worthy for young soccer fans, "The Soccer Fence" is a "story of friendship, hope, and apartheid in South Africa" and is a thoughtfully and thoroughly researched picture book of hope and acceptance told through the eyes of a young black soccer player.

The whimsical "Maisy Plays Soccer," by Lucy Cousins is a brightly colored introduction to the game for the youngest of players and siblings.

"Knuckleball Ned" by R.A. Dickey and Michael Karounos; illustrated by Tim Bowers; Dial; 32 pages; $17.99.

Penned by Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Dickey, this entertaining picture book has an anti-bullying slant and introduces an unpopular, unique boy called "Knuckleball Ned." Other kids, all with baseball heads, are smoother, faster and bouncier, but not Ned, who, just like an unpredictable knuckleball pitch, is odd man out at school. When it comes time to rescue a girl's shoes from up in a tree, all the other balls fail, but slowly floating Ned brings the shoes down, gaining the respect of the naysayers.

Dickey's unique slant on being different by relating bullying to baseball pitch types is certainly timely. Kids familiar with baseball lingo and pitch styles will certainly get a kick out of "Knuckleball Ned" and others, ages 3 to 8, will enjoy its relatable topic of fitting in.

"Sports Illustrated Kids Top Dogs: Babe Ruff and the Legendary Canines of Sports" by the editors of Sports Illustrated Kids; photos illustrated by John Ueland; Sports Illustrated Kids; 64 pages; $11.99.

They say pets eventually start to resemble their human owners. Ueland takes that knowledge a step further by editing real dog heads onto the bodies of sports figures. Babe Ruff has an old-fashioned pug face, while the Great Air Jor-Dane is portrayed as, yes, a Great Dane. Tennis's Ruffa Nadal and Rover Federer are a bit more refined with beagle faces. Hilariously, Arnold Palmeranian is a Pomeranian, and Michael Yelps has a sleek, swimmer-type dogface.

Witty, pun-filled text tells a bit of real sports history made dog-like — "In pawball, quarterbarks are usually taller dogs — Great Danes, German shepherds — not pups like Flutie. But when this dog had the ball, even the best dog catchers couldn't get ahold of him."

Almost all sports and stars are covered, at least the male ones, resulting in a truly funny picture book for dog and sports fans.

"Pete the Cat: Play Ball!" by James Dean; illustrated by James Dean; HarperCollins; 32 pages; $16.99.

An "I Can Read! My First Shared Reading" book, this "Pete the Cat" entry is aimed at kids just starting to read out loud on their own.

Pete the Cat is a droll, emotionless kitty who is ready to play baseball. He drops balls, misses with his bat and "wanted to get a hit. But a walk is cool, too." His team even loses the game, but Pete doesn't mind, because: "Pete did his best. He had fun. What a great game!"

Pete's groovy nonchalant attitude and funny illustrations make Dean's early reader a zesty tale for very young children just beginning to read, and play sports.

To find out more about Lee Littlewood and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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