Sunday 29 June 2014

Football - a Universal Theme? by Natascha Biebow


Sorry, I couldn’t resist blogging about football during the World Cup. It is after all the month-long season of the beautiful game. Plus I grew up in Brazil, the place where, every time the home team plays, it’s a national holiday, the streets are painted. .  .

and people stop work and school to cheer on their side.

According to UNICEF, “football reaches more youth than any other recreational activity in the world … It plays a major part in shaping culture in countries around the world. Harnessing the power of football - a universal language that children understand - can translate into real change for children’s lives.”

Participation in sport and the play is a universal human right, recognized in a number of international conventions. Apart from physical fitness, it can help children to develop self-esteem, self-confidence, trust and social skills. 

Football is a game of international appeal.

Kids play football with anything they have to hand, stuff like:


 See how  . . .

. . . and with what. Boy, are kids inventive!

They play football on the streets, on concrete, on the beach, on waste grounds, in shantytowns, on fields – anywhere

Picture book editors are always looking for books with universal appeal that will sell around the world. What could be more universal than football?! I set out to see if there were any new picture books on this theme. I wondered: did any publishers jump on the World Cup bandwagon? 

Here are two new titles:


The Story of the World Cup, a colourful non-fiction history of the World Cup by Richard Brassey, with fun facts about things like football fidos and penalty shoot-outs (Orion)

And Football Star by Mina Javaherbin and Renato Alarao

a tale set in Brazil, in which a boy and his sister* dream of being a football stars so their mother won't have to work long hours and he won't have to work on a fishing boat. The realistic illustrations show the challenging daily life of poor Brazilians, tempered by the joy of playing football (Walker Books).

Several licensed characters have got their football boots on . . .
And there are some picture books that were published in previous years (though some are out of print, unfortunately):


You may know some other footie favourites to add to this list?

(* My son asked me - why is the World Cup only for boys? Hmmm, well . . . Did you know that there is a Women's World Cup Football Tournament as well? The next one is in Canada in 2015, though you wouldn't guess it from the low-key fanfare and coverage.)

When kids are keen on something, this can be a great way to dive into reading. It's so much fun to read an inspiring football story and then to go out and play - anywhere and with anything.

A universal theme, a game for all ages, for both boys and girls, that helps to foster cultural awareness, resourcefulness, inventiveness, teamwork, fitness and positive self-esteem -- all those things that we aim to encourage in the development of pre-school children. Plus it's FUN! 

Picture book writers and illustrators, Russia 2018 will be here before you know it. So why not get your boots on and kick a cracking story straight into the goal!

Editors, what do you reckon?

Now, back to cheering for our team.  

Natascha Biebow
Author, Editor and Mentor

Blue Elephant Storyshaping is an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission.  Check out my NEW small group coaching courses!

Natascha is also the author of Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Regional Advisor (Chair) of SCBWI British Isles.



Jonathan Emmett said...

A very topical post, Natascha! I must admits that, despite coming from a family of avid Leicester City supporters, I have absolutely zero interest in football. However it is surprising how few football-themed picture books there are given the game’s huge popularity with children. A friend of mine with a football-mad son recently lamented how often he’d had to read the same meagre selection of football-themed picture books to his son, over and over again.

As you said in the post “football reaches more youth than any other recreational activity in the world” and according to research by the PE and School Sport Club Links Scheme (PESSCL), it is THE most popular activity with UK school children. The second most popular is dance. Given it’s greater popularity, one might expect it to be easier to find football-themed picture books than dance-themed picture books, but that’s not the case. A young ballet enthusiast is far more likely to find a picture book that reflects their enthusiasm than a young football enthusiast.

Let’s hope the picture book market responds to this ‘open goal’ soon – I’m sure we’d have more football-mad kids reading if it did!

Natascha Biebow said...

Thanks, Jonathan! Interesting that football comes before dance in popularity. Alongside the 'pink and girly' dance books, we could see some more sports-themed picture books that appeal to BOTH genders?

Paeony Lewis said...

You've got me thinking, Natascha, that there is a bit of a marketing gap in terms of football and football teams. For example, why isn't there a Manchester United picture book for football playing toddlers - people talk about babies kicking in the womb and how they'll be football players, but nobody then presents the parent with a football baby book on the birth of their child!

Natascha Biebow said...

Football baby/toddler books - what a great idea!

Moira Butterfield said...

I once write a football-themed picture book for M & S - It came with a medal. I'd forgotten all about it until I read your post! It sold pretty well at the time, so I think there is definitely a market. Love the picture of the boy making his own football, too.

Natascha Biebow said...

Thanks, Moira! Interesting - maybe there's scope for bespoke books with 'add-ons' with certain retailers as you say. Plus a host of smaller publishers are popping up with new opportunities.

Jon Burgess Design said...

Great scope for books about how to stop biting behaviour in toddlers. . .

Maybe football mad kids are more into non fiction than stories? Sticker books, football star annuals etc etc.
Also, don't forget comics! Roy of The Rovers from Tiger comic, then his very own comic, and Shoot! from the seventies and eighties. Not sure what's around now though but there must be some equivalents. I think pic books are perhaps the wrong medium for the demographic, dunno. . .
Not sure Brazil are going to win this time. France or Holland for me, but it's very open I think. .

John Shelley said...

I'm not a footie fan either, but you've really got me thinking Natascha, all kinds of angles to explore, not only the team aspect... blimey, you're persuading me to try writing again!

Peter Rabbit playing football though .... nooooo! please no!

Football said...

It is true that football is a universal theme, a game for all ages, for both boys and girls, that helps to foster cultural awareness, resourcefulness, inventiveness, teamwork, fitness and positive self-esteem -- all those things that we aim to encourage in the development of pre-school children. Plus it's FUN! Thanks.