Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. 265 million people in the world are playing it! That is something you just can’t ignore. And in a place like the Bronx, with such an international population–and with Central and South American cultures making such a strong and beautiful part of the community–fútbol is very much at home.
This week, I got to enjoy soccer in several forms–as a spectator at a NYCFC match, as a baker making some tasty Oreo soccer balls and as a reader (of course!) of several great kids’ books on the subject.
My soccer-stravaganza began with a book (as all good geek-outs should). Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts is such a sincere story. Sierra loves to play soccer and is part of a league that picks her up from her city apartment where she lives with her aunt to play in the nicer fields of the suburbs beyond the city. She wishes her auntie could come see one of her games, but nobody ever thinks to ask why she doesn’t.
This thoughtful story touches on some deeper issues. Sierra feels a difference between herself and her teammates, senses their privilege and her “otherness.” “Then my ride comes, filled with laughing girls who know jokes I don’t. We weave past the empty lot and through my neighborhood and outside the city, where buses don’t run.” Sierra’s aunt can’t come because the games are always on Saturdays, which is a shift she can’t miss at her restaurant job. In the end, Sierra’s love for her aunt inspires great courage, and Sierra asks her coach to adapt and plan a special game–in the city and on a Monday.
Happy Like Soccer is heartfelt and honest. It could easily lead to really rich conversations with your child. How must Sierra must have felt, leaving her neighborhood every day, knowing that the team didn’t want to play there? Why didn’t anyone ask her why her family wasn’t at the games? How do you think it felt to ask her coach to arrange a special game? I highly recommend this read, whether you share Sierra’s love of soccer or not.
And if you do happen to have soccer fans on your hands (or even just sugar fans, so…any child), you will definitely want to try this recipe: Oreo Soccer Balls! These were a bit of a stretch for me as my decorating skills are not top-notch. (If you’re looking for crazy decorating skills, check out my friend Jen’s incredible cakes at ladulcevidacupcakery on Instagram.) BUT, aesthetics aside, these (sorta) soccer balls were VERY fun to make.
For the inside, all you need is a package of Oreo-type cookies and an 8-oz package of cream cheese. Put the cookies in a ziplock (maybe double it up), and let your little Hulk smash to their hearts’ content!
Then mix the crushed cookies with the softened cream cheese until you get it good and pasty. Don’t hesitate to use your hands! It’s fun, kind of like playing with play-dough. Once it’s pasty, roll it into little balls (between 1-2 inches in diameter, I’d say, but it’s up to you). At this point, I like to stick them in the freezer for a while so they can firm up before we coat them.
While they’re chilling, melt down some white “candy melt.” I found some at Target. They also carry it at Michaels and sometimes at party stores. You can also try using white chocolate chips, but I’ve never had much luck trying to melt and coat things with white or regular chocolate chips. It never seems to get smooth enough and ends up going on lumpy and grainy.
Get your chilled Oreo balls and simply roll them around in the melted white coating. I didn’t worry much about making them look perfect, so I just rolled them around and then fetched them out with a spoon. I’m guessing there are better strategies out there, but this way was quick and simple.
Once they had cooled off and hardened, I melted some Hershey bars and used a little squirt bottle to try and make the soccer ball pattern. I say “try.” because it was actually really tricky! Did you ever notice that the black spots on a soccer ball are pentagons while the while spots are hexagons??? (Mind blown.) Anyway, you can judge the results for yourself…
If I were to do this over again, I might try using brown M&Ms instead. I also might try using one of those easily melt-able tubs of chocolate that are intended for dipping fruit. It seems like that might write more smoothly.
To cover up my shoddy polygon-drawing skills, I decided to plop these guys down on some little patches of “grass” (i.e. the leftover candy melt dyed green with food coloring and mixed with shredded coconut…).
So, these came out looking admittedly a bit odd, BUT they taste de-lish! They are VERY sweet. I can handle my sugar, but I had to pace myself when I tasted one of these guys. If you try these at home, you can experiment depending on your tastes–for example, using different flavors of Oreo (mint tastes amazing!) or different flavors of cream cheese. You can also, of course, use this same basic recipe to make all different kinds of sports balls, if your little one is more of a basketball-lover, for example.
I took these tasty treats with me to one of NYC Football Club’s soccer games last week and they were a hit. If you’re interested in catching an NYCFC match yourself, they are playing one more home game this season, on Saturday October 22nd at Yankee Stadium. The fans can be a little rowdy (which is honestly a big part of the fun!), but if you bring your little ones, just be sure to have your “earmuffs” handy.
Or (better yet!), if your child has an even stronger interest in soccer, you will definitely want to look into South Bronx United. This is an amazing organization here in the South Bronx that offers a variety of ways for kids to engage with soccer, including a league that is beginning its fall season RIGHT NOW. In addition to nurturing kids’ love of and skills in soccer, South Bronx United mentors and tutors its young players to help them succeed in all areas of life, not just on the field.
MORE BOOKS TO BAKE (AND BALL!) WITH:
GOAL! by Mina Javaherbin – A group of boys in South Africa play street soccer with a new federation-size football (won by the protagonist for being “the best reader in the class”). They face a close call with a group of bullies but manage to trick the bullies into stealing their old, unwanted plastic ball. The exhilaration as they play is palpable and makes you want to grab a ball and start a pick-up game of your own.
Soccer Hour by Carol Nevius – This book is a particularly good one for kids who like to play soccer, or are joining a team for the first time. In rhyme, it takes us through the practice session of a team (co-ed and racially diverse, both in players and coaches), using a good amount of real soccer terminology. It also has striking illustrations which often zoom in closely on almost photographic-like black-and-white images of the players, with just their soccer balls and pinnies beaming with flashes of color.
My First Soccer Book – For the littlest soccer fans out there, this is a straightforward board book that teaches the basic terms of soccer, paired with bright photos. Little ones will love to repeat the new words they learn and to turn the pages for themselves. If you take them to a sports store the park to watch some soccer, they’ll be excited to see some of the things (shin guards, cleats, etc.) that they learned about.