A soccer story with a gender-equality twist.
The sense of place is established from the title page with an illustration of the young protagonist flying a kite in his Brazilian neighborhood. Paulo loves to play soccer and one day hopes to be a famous soccer star. While he walks his sister, Maria, to school, they practice soccer moves. Paulo then makes his way to the fishing boat where he works, greeting his teammates along the way; they, like him, work during the day and play soccer afterward. There’s a lull in pacing in the middle of the story, but it quickly picks up with the “big game.” While Paulo respects Maria’s soccer skills, his teammates won’t let her play—until one of them is injured, and she then scores. Alarcão expertly captures the motion of Maria’s triumphant, scoring bicycle kick, but it’s too bad there is no illustration that shows the team explicitly welcoming her into the fold. That’s a minor quibble, as it’s downright refreshing to see illustrations that realistically relay the diversity of shades found among Brazilians. Javaherbin deftly handles Paulo and Maria’s poverty with honesty while simultaneously refraining from sugarcoating, overemphasizing or romanticizing it. Perhaps most importantly, Javaherbin shows that being poor doesn’t stop people from having lives and dreams.
A lovely story about soccer, gender and hope. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-8)