Scoring a Picture Book Goal
with Author Mina Javaherbin

h1 May 4th, 2010 by jules


“Magubani has the ball. He passes to Hassan. Hassan runs. I steal from Hassan and whoosh like the wind, glued to the ball. I dribble past him and—Goooooooal!
(Click to enlarge spread.)

Author (and architect) Mina Javaherbin is here this morning to talk a bit about her debut picture book title, Goal! (Candlewick, April 2010), illustrated by A.G. Ford. Goal! tells the story of a group of friends in a poor South African township who revel in a game of football. (That’s soccer to those of us on this side of the big pond.) Ajani has earned a new federation-sized football for being the best reader in his class, and he presents it to his friends with great pride as they set up goals and begin to play. “The streets are not safe, but I have a plan,” Ajani tells his friends: They will take turns, guarding for the bullies in the neighborhood. Then, the game commences, and the game’s tension and excitement—as well as the boys’ passion for the game—leaps off the page in these sprawling oil spreads from Ford. Even when they are “trapped” after the bullies arrive, Ajani quickly devises a plan to keep their new ball from getting stolen. (But I won’t give that away here, in case you want to read for yourself.)

This is, as already mentioned, Javaherbin’s picture book debut, and it’s a lyrical, spare story of friendship and empowerment (“When we play together, we are unbeatable,” the book closes), written in an effectively uncluttered and immediate manner. Ford propels the action forward with great tension and a detailed reverence for our protagonists and their shantytown life. These are, quite simply, gorgeous oil paintings, and Ford perfectly nails the wide-ranging moods that rear their heads in the story: Elation, fear, embarrassment, courage, and right back to elation. And …victory.

All around, this one’s a winner. The writing. The illustrations. And the way they team up together to tell this tale, which makes you want to stand up and cheer. Javaherbin closes the book with an Author’s Note: “Here in this alley, we join a group of friends as they embrace the spirit of soccer. They play to stay connected. They play to stay children. They play to stay human. But mostly, they play to play.”

A.G. Ford will be here soon for one of my breakfast illustrator interviews. But today, Mina’s here. And I asked her about her inspiration in writing this book (acknowledging that surely authors must get tired of being asked about “inspiration.” I mean, really. Don’t you think?….). Anyway, thanks to Mina for stopping by.

* * * * * * *

Thanks for having me on your blog, and thanks for asking me about what ‘inspired’ me to write this book. No, really!

To be honest, most of the time I have no clue how my brain works or how things come out, why, and where’s the stop button?

When an inspiration comes, depending on where that mind has been, it bathes the idea in the life experiences, dreams, and ideals specific to the writer. The final product is a conscious and unconscious combination of the above process.

Here’s the story of GOAL!: The Inspiration, and I’m sticking with it. Well, I’ll try to:

During my life, I’ve had the opportunity to travel and eyewitness, with awe, the global phenomena called football (soccer). Finally, as I watched the 2006 FIFA Games, I decided to write a book about the uniting power of soccer. My versions varied from children playing in New York tenements to a time-travel middle-grade in Europe.

I hit my head against my soccer ball and the wall alternately, but the stories did not click.

My other stories asked for my attention and taunted me to leave this one. I could not.

For a good few years, I wrote a dozen versions. During this time, my writing taught me to shift from the idea of the uniting power of soccer on a global level to the idea of the uniting power of soccer on a personal level.

I have always thought that the most personal experiences in life are the most universal ones, so if I aimed to address such a universal book, why not try the most personal angle? And so I did.

On this level, I wanted to touch the leather ball, feel the heat in the alley, and run after the ball. I never looked back. To play has always been the true magic.


“Keto comes out of his house. I kick the ball to him. ‘Ajani!’ he calls. ‘No more old plastic balls!’ Jamal says. He kicks his old ball to the side, sending a flip-flop into the air. Magubani, Hassan, and Badu come out. We pass the shiny leather ball in a circle. We are real champions, playing with a real ball. With my buckets, I set up the goal.”
(Click to enlarge image.)

I knew I was getting closer. Still, something was missing. One day, simply by looking at the FIFA 2010 calendar, I found it. The experience was like finding your glasses on your forehead after searching the entire house. I found South Africa. It was sitting on my forehead, since I was a teen in Iran and watched the amazing images of the anti-apartheid movement unfold on the black-and-white TV in our living room. I became very familiar with names such as Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Their leadership and humanity has brought inspiration to many nations and people ever since. I can’t even tell you how I felt when CWP {Candlewick} informed me of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s comment on my book. {Ed. Note: The book’s dust jacket quotes Tutu as describing the title as uplifting and inspiring.} That can be the subject of a future interview about my private life which I’ll give when I’m seventy or eighty…

We are more connected than we think we are. And, no, I have never set foot in South Africa, and with all my heart I’d love to one day.

Suddenly, everything started to fall in place, and I had the book.

Sure, I tweaked the work five hundred more times with the help of amazing friends, but I had the story.

Candlewick liked my story, and A.G. Ford did it justice by his amazing art. When Candlewick asked my opinion, I only hoped for an artist who was a master in depicting faces, because this story is about face time.

Since my writing is always a visual affair, A.G. Ford for me was a dream-come-true. It seemed as if he lived in my head and saw the book exactly as I envisioned.

Sure, he tweaked the work five hundred more times, but he had the story.

This book is a true team effort.

* * * * * * *

GOAL! Text copyright © 2010 by Mina Javaherbin. Illustrations copyright © 2010 by A.G. Ford. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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5 comments to “Scoring a Picture Book Goal
with Author Mina Javaherbin”

  1. Wow, I looooooved those images!!!!!!! They are amazingly beautiful and not just because of their technical perfection: I love their lack of touchy-feelinness that most of the times characterizes stories relating to similar subjects… on the contrary those images give full and powerful body to the reality of kids (poor, living in pitiful conditions and whatever else to be said) whom, despite, everything are still able to dream and just be kids. Beautiful story as you say: full of inspiration, and amazing ensemble! Thank you!!!


  2. Mina! Mina!Mina! So excited and happy to see you here and read this – beautiful beautiful all the way through….


  3. [...] at 7-Imp chats with author Mina Javaherbin about her beautifully written and illustrated picture book [...]


  4. [...] illustrator A. G. Ford to the breakfast table this morning. It wasn’t that long ago that I featured some art from his most recent illustrated title, Goal! (Candlewick, April 2010), written by Mina Javaherbin. [...]


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