One of my fondest memories growing up was playing soccer (better known as fútbol). I was enthralled by the fact that you had to control a wild bouncing ball with just your feet. It soon became a big part of my social life with games and tournaments during three seasons of the year. (I still have scars on my knees from indoor soccer turf!)
In her first children’s book called Fútbol!, author and illustrator Taleen Keldijan has captured the spirit of the game that’s enjoyed around the world. Through activities like coloring, puzzles, and drawing, kids ages four to nine can learn about soccer, exercise their imagination, and be introduced to other cultures. That’s an aspect I really like about this book—its inclusivity, and showcasing how different places celebrate the fúbtol.
There’s a lot to do in Fútbol, and I captured just a fraction of it in a short video above. Honestly, you (or a kid!) could spend hours on it—the book is jam-packed! Plus, there are a lot opportunities for collaboration. A parent and child could both take turns drawing or coloring some of the spreads.
I spoke with Taleen about her book, which is now available on Amazon.
Brown Paper Bag: What inspired you to write the book?
Taleen Keldijan: My publisher from the very beginning asked if I could write and illustrate a doodle book especially for multiracial and multicultural children. There are not too many resources available for those kids in the market today. The subject was free reign, which is quite rare for a young writer/illustrator to be presented with early in their career.
Illustrating sports subjects had always excited me and I had been wanting to work on a professional sports-themed project for a while. I thought to myself, what better subject could appeal to most kids than sports? What popular sport today unites the world? The answer was easily soccer, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity! I wanted to do something that was different, special, and not already in the market today. I also titled it Fútbol! because I wanted to pay tribute to the sport and it’s authentic name the rest of the world calls it by. Despite its Spanish name, the book is written in English.
BPB: How did you choose the path of becoming an illustrator?
TK: It is kind of a long one because it did not hit me right away that illustration was my path. I had always been drawing from early childhood as soon as I picked up the pencil. Doing art and inventing my own projects was always a hobby and I did it every chance I could get when I did not have homework. From grade school through high school it was really the only class I excelled in and knew it was a God-given gift I had to keep pursuing. As a high school senior drawing in Art Club, when it came time to go to college, I realized my passion for art was very strong and I could not see a life without it, but at the time I did not know what I would specialize in.
Attending Pasadena City College was a great stepping stone in helping me figure that out, immersing myself in many fine art, design and art history classes. I was mentored by many fine instructors along the way. Animation sounded mesmerizing and I was leaning towards for a while, but one moment came and flipped my trajectory. After attending a guest animator’s presentation, I realized animation is tedious and mechanical, thus it was not for me. Slowly over time I realized in my core I loved drawing and painting, being better suited for illustration. Once I figured out my specialization, I set my sights on the best local art school for illustration: Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
Enduring through the rigorous and demanding curriculum at Art Center for three years shaped me into the illustrator I am today, confirming I made the right decision and was born to do this. I mostly illustrate for editorials, publishing, textile/surface design, and any other new opportunities that come my way. Wherever I go in my career, I remember that child-like spirit and first love of doing art—that young girl sitting at the dining room table, deep in her imagination, drawing and painting–with me as an inspiration and motivation.
BPB: What message do you hope to share with audiences through Fútbol!, and through your work in general?
Messages I hope to share with audiences through Fútbol! is three-fold:
The first is the sport of fútbol unites us all no matter our background, hence introducing characters from different fútbol popular countries. Every nation in the world come together to participate, pause for the love of the game, and learn unique cultural traditions from each other.
Second is while creating this project, I did not want this book to be thought of for just boys, but really sought to reach out to young girls and include them throughout my story, hence including two female characters and educating fun facts on U.S. soccer player and female hero, Alex Morgan. I remember being addicted to the sport in grade school and playing with mostly boys, wishing the genders were more balanced.
Third, I am a storyteller and my work is narrative. When I visit schools, the message I like to share with kids is if you like writing, then keep writing. If you like drawing, then keep drawing. Creating stories with only words works and creating stories with only pictures works too. If you like to do both, all the better—words and images are a good marriage!
Start out by writing and/or drawing your favorite things and create stories out of it. Don’t worry too much about it not making too much sense in the beginning. Practice by writing several drafts and draw layers of sketches. You will get better and one day as a career, creating your own book will become possible. Let your imagination wander and most importantly, just have fun!