The World Cup is only days away. If you have kids who have been peppering you with questions about the tournament or football in general, our friends at the Quarto Publishing Group can give you the answers you need, thanks to two books they just published about football: 50 Things You Should Know about Football by Aidan Keir Radnedge (QED Publishing, 2018) and Fantastic Footballers: 40 Inspiring Icons by Jean-Michel Billioud and illustrated by Almasty (Wide Eyed Editions, 2018). Both are written for the kiddos, popping with high-contrast color, accessible language, and a slew of the kind of facts kids love.
Both books are historical in span, but brings kids right up the very present day, as we sit on the cusp of the 2018 World Cup starting. So if you want your kids to come away both with a football timeline, as well as awareness of all the big pieces that make up of the vast world of football, get these two books.
50 Things You Should Know about Football is part of a series that covers other topics like Vikings, the Tudors (seriously!), American Presidents, inventions, the Titanic, or the human body. Surely you’ve seen books like this in the children’s section of the local library. Indeed, other football in spirit already exist, but either focus on specific clubs (e.g. Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, etc.) or lack the depth that you’ll find in the 50 Things book.
So according to 50 Things, what should kids know about football? Here’s a sampling of topics covered in the book, which is divided into one- or two-page spreads for each topic:
- The history of football
- Caps and numbers
- Evolution of the laws
- The woman’s game
- Copa America
- Super clubs
- Great games
- Modern icons
- Women to watch
After you and/or your kid(s) has gone through all 80 pages of these topics, you’ll have the prerequisite knowledge for all the football basics (U.S. readers, are you paying attention? *wink*.) Each topic is presented with a couple manageable paragraphs of text, a number of images, call out boxes, captions, timelines, and other visual organizers. The lexile level is for kids in the primary grades. For example, here’s a passage about, believe it or not, Tiki-Taka: “Tiki-taka is the name given to the quick, short-passing tactics adopted by Barcelona and the Spanish national team in the first decade of the 21st century. It was heavily influenced by the ideas of former Barcelona player and manager Johan Cruyff, and brought huge success to the two teams ….” Below this paragraph is a heart-warming image of Xavi about to tap a short square pass to Andreas Iniesta. Sigh. Cue nostalgia attacks for adult readers.
Bundesliga partisans can rest assured that Germany is listed first in the section on “Major football nations.” Heh heh. A picture of Miroslav Klose holding the World Cup trophy takes up a large chunk of real estate in this section. At least the kiddos will get their evaluative priorities straight. But it gets even better: Germany’s now infamous and glorious 7-1 soul-deconstructing demolition of hosts Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semis is one of three matches featured in the “Great games” section. #Respect.
For the record, an image of Kevin Keegan wearing his HSV kit is probably the best Bundesliga-themed image in 50 Things.
After the kiddos have absorbed the historical, social, economic, and cultural lessons of 50 Things, they’re ready for Fantastic Footballers: 40 Inspiring Icons, which profiles 40 famous footballers chronologically, beginning with Alfredo di Stéfano and ending with France’s Amandine Henry. Obviously, the selection criteria used for any book of this sort is open to hours and hours of endless pub talk, or pages upon pages of Reddit discourse. Instead of quibbling, use the opportunity to discuss the logic behind various selection criteria models with the kiddos, thus preparing them for adult life’s infinite sport discussions about GOATs, ranking listicles, and beery arguments.
Fanastic Footballers‘ selection criteria obviously adheres to a certain logic. First, the book is contemporary footballer heavy; for example, about one-fourth of the footballers featured currently play. This expanded group of players makes sense for kids, who live heavily through immediacy and recency when it comes to sports. Thus, they can actually seeing a number of FIFA pixeled stars in this book. Pretty exciting. Second, it’s plausible that the author Billioud went for players post-Stéfano, since more YouTube footage of these players exists for kids who want to see video of these icons. This possible video complementary was a smart move.
Each icon is given a two-page spread, which is divided into lightly bordered boxes highlighting the essentials, like awards, career highpoints, a significant statistic, etc. Each icon is described in one introductory paragraph that summarizes the most important information, as well as the player’s legacy. As an adult reader, you’ll probably find that the book fills in football gaps of basic information, or reminds you about something big you’ve long forgotten.
However, the highlight for each icon is the illustrations. The creative firm Almaty was hired to do the artwork and chose a currently in-vogue look with high contrast and blocky stylization. This style enables the illustrators to heighten notable physiological/visible traits for each famous player—for example, Bobby Charlton’s comb-over, Lev Yashin’s fantastic cap, Franz Beckenbauer’s jawline, Paolo Maldini’s thin headband, Zinédine Zidane’s tonsure, Brazilian Ronaldo’s tooth gap, or Leo Messi’s arm tattoos.
If you want the tally, Fantastic Footballers features the following German players: Franz Beckenbauer, Manuel Neuer, and Nadine Angerer. Not a large number, especially compared to the Brazilians, English, or Italians. But probably fair. Perhaps Gerd Müller was the most deserving German left out.
Speaking of Germans, Nadine Angerer is featured along with three other female players: Mia Hamm, Marta, and Amadine Henry. Sure, four is only one-tenth of the book’s tally, but Fantastic Footballers does much better than other football books for kids. For one thing, female players are actually listed with the men in the same volume, which is significant. Moreover, you have to think that this grouping will inevitably raise the iconic clout of these female players in the minds of future football-watching adults. Football needs this sort of gender leveraging badly, and the best way for it to happen is at a level that will shape the ways young boys and girls view footballers, especially by “naturally” thinking that women definitely deserve to be listed. Hopefully, the number of women will grow in future editions to increase this effect.
So as you and the kiddos gear up for weeks of summertime World Cup watching, boring afternoons, and stifling heat, get them two books that cover all the basics for hooking them into the world’s most beautiful game.
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