“My First Soccer Book”, by Sterling Children’s Books

My First Soccer Book, by Sterling Children’s Books, 2015.

No author listed, though the fine print on the back of this book says the design is by Phil Buchanan, whatever that might mean. Anyway, this is a collection of stock photos, mainly of kids playing soccer, each matched with a soccer-related word or phrase.  It’s a nice, sturdy board book.

It’s been an easy read-aloud, starting with boring pages like “Cleats”, working up to more dynamic stuff like “Referee” and various ways to kick the ball, and finally concluding with a triumphant “Goal!” So there’s a sort of natural arc of gradually increasing volume and enthusiasm, even for the sports-illiterate like me. (Whether it will pass muster with anyone who actually knows anything about soccer, I cannot tell you.)

I think my last blog post ended with some kind of moral about choosing books that align with your interests, so that you can be really excited about sharing them with your kid. So now it’s time to moralize in the other direction a bit, I guess? Anyway, this is the next review that I’ve reassembled from my torn-up notebook.

My wife and I do not play sports or follow sports or know anything really about sports. We have a proud tradition of unsportingness to carry on from our own parents. (Both of our mothers in particular used to worry rather about whether sports/competition generally was “too violent” for their children. But pretending to be Robin Hood was A-OK? As was reading classical literature like The Iliad? Yeah, that never made sense to me either.) This unsportingness was just fine by me and the wife, but I think at least one or two of my siblings may have missed out on something that could have been Their Thing because of it.

My wife and I both really want our baby to grow up and find the Things that light them on fire. (Figuratively speaking! Figuratively speaking!) And we have an active, outgoing baby. Who loves physical activity. And socializing with people. The sort of baby who, if these traits continue into actual childhood, might have sport be Their Special Thing. Or at minimum, loads of fun. We also want our baby to grow up and have loads of fun.

So we looked up what sports are played in our area, and found a local soccer group for toddlers against the day when the Offspring is old enough to show interest in that sort of thing. And also to be walking firmly enough to actually kick a ball. If toddler soccer turned out to be just another mysterious event inflicted from on high (like my childhood piano lessons), I will be juuuuust fine with that. I have zero ambition to be a soccer mom. But I do want the Offspring to feel like they really had a proper chance to pursue their interests, whatever those might be.

So. About this actual book. My kid and I were in the bookstore a while back getting something completely different (and I think Christmas related? I forget). We were doing our best not to destroy anything while we waited for the store owner, and the Offspring found these sports books and seemed interested. (If pausing in a persistent effort to pull all the books off the shelves in order to leaf through a book counts as interest.) This one is part of a series – there was also basketball, etc. on the shelf, but I picked up the soccer one (since that is the sport with the local toddler group). I noticed that it wasn’t entirely populated by white boys. And then we put all the books back, finished our errand, and went home. The End.

Actually, we went back a week later and I bought the damn book, to remind me not to wimp out about Giving Sports A Chance. And also because I was in the middle of being pissed off about Global Baby Girls (I’ll come back and link to my review of that whenever I get it posted), and was primed to buy a book that included Active Girls Doing Things.

My First Soccer Book is now a kid favorite around here. I have mixed feelings about this.

The Representation Headcounts:
My first try at counting came up with an exactly equal number of boys and girls. (Assuming, in some cases, that long hair = girl, which I am aware is a terrible, terrible assumption; some of the long-haired kids may not actually be girls, but with the back of a head and a soccer jersey to go on, that’s what I counted them as.)  Anyway, that much equality seemed weird, because I’d had a strong impression was that the book was a bit weighted towards boys.

Since there are two photos of larger groups which include girls (everyone on the “Sideline” may be a girl, going by the backs of their heads), I decided to try counting pages that included girls and/or boys. (If there were both, it was counted twice.) By that count, I got seven pages that included some number of girls (and/or long-haired people of other genders) vs. eleven with some number of boys. Overthinking it a bit, the boys also have more of the actively kicking things pages.  But the girls do get a few action shots, too – they aren’t all hanging out on the sideline.  And the example picture for “Coach” is a woman.  So on Active Girls Doing Things, this book meets or exceeds my expectations.

Race comes off less well than gender – if I’ve done my math right, we’re looking at about 84% white people. The representative “Referee” is a black man (there is also a referee who is a white man who appears later in the book), and the goal-scoring player at the end is a black girl. I wasn’t overly pleased to notice that the black referee and two out of three black boys seem to have more aggressive expressions than the book’s average, though it took me a while to catch that. Maybe I’m overthinking? I hope I’m overthinking.  But if you’re looking for a sports book with racial diversity, maybe keep looking.

As far as the representing The Playing of Sports in this house of No Sports, however, I feel like it was a well-spent seven bucks.

Edit: Oh right, and a link for those who would like to see the actual cover and for some reason don’t want to Google it.  Umm, let’s see, looks like it was reviewed as part of a roundup here: http://www.hbook.com/2015/05/choosing-books/recommended-books/board-book-roundup-spring-2015-edition/#_



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