Thanks to Eerdmans Books for Young Readers for sharing a copy of Madani’s Best Game with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.
Madani’s Best Game
Written by Fran Pintadera | Illustrated by Raquel Catalina | Translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel
“Our whole neighborhood knows it: no one plays soccer like Madani does.” Thus, a teammate of Madani’s begins the story about this friend who captivates the neighborhood (and sometimes it seems the whole world) with his barefoot ball-handling prowess. Madani has elevated the team’s game to “the best soccer we’ve ever seen.” After Madani has scored a “Gooooal!” the sound of the cheers soars above the playing field and “…crosses through doorways, rushes past the magazine stand, slips down alleyways, swirls around the fountain, and, growing fainter and fainter, climbs the steps up to Madani’s house.”
There, his mother hears it and knows the cheers are for Madani. She wishes she could attend his games, but she’s a seamstress and has so many garments to sew by hand. After the game, Madani’s teammates can only imagine how much better he would play if he only had a good pair of cleats. Their team might even be able to beat the Southside team—their biggest rival.
The members of the team know that Madani’s saving up money in a special tin that gets heavier every time he declines to buy a snack, walks to away games instead of riding the bus, and makes other sacrifices. They know that when the box is full, Madani’s going shopping. “…then our games will be better than ever!’” he says, and they all dream of the day Madani buys his new cleats.
The big game against Southside is only a day away, but Madani doesn’t come to practice. Instead, his friends watch him head downtown with the tin under his arm. Without Madani at practice, the team falls apart, but they don’t worry. Finally, they thought, their dreams of new cleats and beating Southside would come true!
When Madani shows up at the game the next day, “he looks radiant,” but he’s still barefoot. His teammates question him about his new cleats, but Madani doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The money wasn’t for shoes but for a present for his mother so that “‘she’ll be able to finish her work faster and come watch me play every Saturday.’”
Madani’s friends still don’t quite get it, but the game begins, and in moments Madani has already stolen the ball away from the Southside players, run downfield and scored. He looks into the stands, sees his mother, and shouts “‘This goal is for you, Mom!’” Madani makes another goal, but Southside scores too, and the game ends in a tie. It’s okay, though, Madani’s teammate says, “‘because now more than ever, everyone in the neighborhood knows … There’s no player like Madani!’”
Back matter consists of notes from Fran Pintadera and Raquel Catalina that reveal their creative journeys and connections to this story.
Fran Pintadera, who based Madani’s Best Game on his experiences as a social educator in new immigrant housing, tells his story with open-hearted affection for his subject as well as the relationships between teammates and mother and child. Through his perceptive and humorously observed details and lyrical language, Pintadera captures the wide-eyed wonder of children in awe of a great player (or artist, singer, scientist, or other talent). When Madani gets the ball, readers will hold their breath along with the neighbors, traffic, and even pigeons while he entertains the crowd and scores a goal. Then the action begins again, but this time the suspense revolves not around the game but on what Madani will buy. The answer is joyous, affirming family devotion and revealing the pure giving nature of a child’s heart.
From their first introduction to Madani, smiling out from the page, his bare foot on a soccer ball, readers will be captivated by him, his teammates, his neighborhood, and the game. Raquel Catalina’s endearing pencil, gouache, and colored pencil illustrations charm with realistic images of kids on the soccer field surrounded by city onlookers. Catalina creates not only gorgeous visuals of Madani’s supportive neighborhood, but an almost auditory experience as well.
Readers can almost hear the players’ running feet, the sudden cheers, the flap of the rising pigeons’ wings, and – as the celebration reaches Madani’s mother’s ears – even the whisper of her sewing needle through the fabric on her knees. Catalina deftly weaves the theme of friendship, between people both young and old, throughout the pages, enhancing the bond between Madoni and his mom as well as Madani’s teammates’ understanding of the true importance of that long-awaited game.
A beautiful poignant, joyful, and affirming story of family and friendship, Madani’s Best Game is a read aloud that adults and kids will love to share over and over. The book is a must for all home, classroom, school, and public libraries.
Ages 5 – 9
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-0802855978
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