Madani’s Best Game – Fran Pintadera and Raquel Catalina

Madani's Best Game by Fran Pintadera, Raquel Catalina, Lawrence Schimel
Also by this author: Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile, One Million Oysters on Top of the Mountain, It's So Difficult, Different: A Story of the Spanish Civil War, 9 Kilometers
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers on October 11, 2022
Genres: Children's
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A heartfelt book featuring a neighborhood soccer team and its determined young star, who has a secret plan even more impressive than his bicycle kicks.
No one plays soccer like Madani. When the ball lands on his bare feet, the whole town stops to watch. Even Madani’s mother—still sewing the day’s work at home—can hear the crowds cheer when he scores. His teammates wonder what their best player could do, if he only had a proper pair of cleats. As Madani saves up money, bit by bit, his team’s rivalry match approaches. Maybe he’ll have new cleats in time for the big day! Or maybe Madani has a different goal in mind…
Told with gentle humor and lively illustrations, Madani’s Best Game is a refreshing story about the joys of sports, teamwork, and family.

Madani is a young boy who plays soccer barefoot. He’s the best player, the hardest worker, and always has the most fun. Everyone loves to watch Madani play. But the one person he wants to watch can’t. Madani’s mom works long hours as a seamstress to take care of her family. As time goes on, Madani slowly saves his money. If only he had cleats, what kind of player would he be? Then one day, Madani says that he has to miss practice to go into town. Everyone assumes that he’s going to buy cleats but the next day he shows up barefoot to play. What did he buy? Not cleats, but a sewing machine. And for this game, Madani’s mom is in the stands.

Madani’s Best Game is a sweet story with a not-all-that-unexpected twist that reminds readers that stuff—even stuff that could help you improve at your passion—means nothing if you cannot share that passion with the people you love. One of the things that I appreciated about the book was how, in the big game, Madani doesn’t play better or worse—he is simply Madani, playing well with all the passion of a kid with natural talent and a good work ethic. The theme of playing for love of the game runs strong throughout the book.

The author, Fran Pintadera, writes that her inspiration for Madani’s Best Game came from her experience working in new immigrant housing in Spain, seeing how sports—football (or soccer) in particular was a stabilizing force that brought together kids from different cultures. Illustrator Raquel Catalina contrasts colors with muted tones to draw the eye toward the part of the frame the text is emphasizing. I did feel like there was something missing from the book. Like the theme wasn’t quite as fully developed as it could have been. Nonetheless, Madani’s Best Game is perfect for the young soccer player in your life.