I’m not sure why Amazon states the book is for pre-school and up, when the publisher, Kube, posts this book for ages 7 and up. I think 3rd or 4th grade soccer/football fans will enjoy the book. There are some slightly mature ideas presented and worked through, and the soccer lingo assumes the reader knows the sport. Plus the quality of the illustrations and the small font isn’t going to entice someone not already excited to read the book based on the content within. My boys, ages 8 and 9, enjoyed the book, as did I, once the story got going. It doesn’t really grip you from the first sentence, but as the story progresses and the way Islam is woven in makes for some learning experiences in the midst of a few intense football matches.
The boys at the Sunday Madrasa do not enjoy their time there. They find the Imam boring and thus are not inspired to learn. When they sneak a football into break time however, they suddenly feel more engaged and present in their lessons. A change the Imam notices and appreciates, but doesn’t know the reasoning for as he strictly forbids football and finds it a waste of time. Outside of Madrasa, Junayd is having a hard time at home. He has to help out a lot at his father’s restaurant and his older brother Saleem has gotten in trouble with the police. His mom prays for the kids, but is also at a loss as to how to help with the stresses at home.
During a secret game of football in the masjid courtyard, an arrant ball breaks the neighbor’s greenhouse window, and the boys are forced to come clean about their covert game. The Imam demands the kids stop playing and that they tell their parents what they have done, so that they may earn some money to replace the window. As the kids come through with the money and the Imam sees the kids resort back to their lackluster attitudes to learning. He gets an idea to start a football club after madrasa classes. The only problem is that he knows nothing about the sport and no parents are willing to help.
Saleem by chance comes to collect his brother one day, and as he hollers advice from the sidelines, the Imam recruits him to coach the team. In response the Imam ever so gently uses football to teach not only the madrasa kids, but Saleem as well. When the boys learn of an upcoming tournament, the Madrasa enters an A and B squad and the Shabab Al-Nasr, Victory Boys, will be tested not only in their play, but also in their manners, and understanding of what it means to be a team and Muslim.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that the Imam grows and changes. I mean it is a kids book about soccer, but really it is the adult in the story that shows the most heart. He goes out of his comfort zone, reevaluates his opinions, and admits when he is wrong. High five Imam! I also like that he didn’t give up on Saleem, and the way he leads him is with such kindness and compassion, that even youngsters, will be impressed.
The book does not talk down to the reader, which is nice, but at the same time I think it pushes the age appropriateness a bit with the detail devoted to alcohol being sold at the restaurant, Junayd’s father’s flaws, and even Adam’s dad’s tantrum of sorts. There really aren’t any nice parents in the book. We don’t learn much about the moms, but none of the dads seem too supportive. Really the only nice adults are the Imam and the neighbor who’s window they broke.
The timeline isn’t entirely smooth, the kids come together and play well as a team remarkably fast for how intense the tournament is, and how well they perform. And some of the characters could have used some fleshing out, I couldn’t really tell you much about them. The font is really small and the spacing often forgotten. The book is about 95 pages with a glossary and an acknowledgement at the end, fortunately the 2nd book in the series seems to space the words and lines out more and is 155 pages.
The story is solid and for the most part well written. I read it in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed the lessons learned and then put into practice. The book isn’t preachy, but you are glad to see the Imams words given life in the other characters’ actions. Saleem changes quickly, but the author and story account for it in a way that is believable for the audience and the message of not giving up on one another comes through loud and clear. There is a lot of technical detail about the sport, but it doesn’t drag on, it adds to the excitement even if you just know the basics.
The talk of alcohol, of Saleem being with a group of kids and a stolen car, there is some yelling and aggressiveness from the adults.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
The story is a bit short for a book club selection, but I would definitely consider it for Lunch Bunch (where I read to 4th and 5th graders while they eat lunch). And I think most Islamic School libraries and classrooms should stock the series.