Summary: El Gato has just won the World Cup as a goalkeeper with his team. He tells an incredible story to the reporter about learning his craft from a ghost in the forest near his home. Told in flashback format as an interview of the main character (El Gato) to a sports reporter.
Personal Reaction: Incredibly detailed look at learning how to be a goalkeeper in soccer set against backstory of logging a rainforest. Sure the Keeper is a specter, but still… I was interested in the story, though I have no interest in soccer (so that’s high praise), but the nagging thought I couldn’t shake was that the story is set up as an interview between El Gato and a reporter and, if this story were being told to the reporter, no one “speaks” like that, they only write like that. What I mean is, I might tell someone that I ran down the path and burst through the leaves, but I would never say, “I ran down the silvery moonlit path and pushed my way through the thick green leaves with my heart in my throat.” See what I mean? But the ending takes us into the realm that the interview will be turned into a book (this one) so it all works out… kind of.
Suitable for grades 6 and up, but I’m thinking it takes a mature kid to sit through all the details, so I’d recommend for high schoolers.
Points of discussion: Could be used as a novel study for PE, has a minor environmental/naturalist connection; an interesting choice for International Baccalaureate programs (author is from England, set in South America, learner profile characteristics included)
Realia: soccer ball (modern and/or historical examples), soccer goal/net, stuffed Jaguar or photographs, examples of botanical & insect observation notebook, trophy
Connections to other books: as for soccer themes in fiction, I have only read Tangerine by Bloor, but there are plenty of others (and for girls too like Breathing Soccer by Spring). For the soccer enthusiast, there’s lots to interest everyone – World Cup of Soccer: The Complete Guide by Hunt, The Soccer Goalkeeper by Luxbacher and Soccer’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Clumsy Keepers, Clever Crosses, and Outlandish Oddities by Snyder. For rainforest or Brazilian connections, try Asphalt Angels by Holtwijk, Rainforest researchers by Castner, Draw Rainforest Animals by DuBosque or even Jaguar by Smith.