The Children’s Book Review | July 1, 2014
Geeta Raj brings an 11-year career in international development and humanitarian assistance to The Global Sleepover series, including over 8 years as a Senior Program Analyst with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Geeta’s experiences working and living in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Colombia, the U.K., Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina influence her work on The Global Sleepover. She is a two-time recipient of the Washington, DC Commission on the Arts Folk and Traditional Arts Grant and speaks Hindi, French and basic Spanish and Serbian. Geeta holds a BA in Creative Writing from University of Houston and a MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University in Washington, DC.
Luisa LaFleur: In A Soccer (or Football) Sleepover in Brazil/Sleepover at the World Cup in Brazil, we are introduced to three boys from very distinct backgrounds that all share a common love of soccer. How did you choose your characters and are they based on anyone in particular?
Geeta Raj: In The Global Sleepover stories, we have four main characters. Clarity, Juliet, Noah and Clive. Clarity and Juliet travel as a team on adventures together as do Noah and Clive. The character of Clarity is named after and based on my god-daughter Clarity. The character of Noah is based after Amani, a friend’s son. We also introduce, in each story, a new character from a new country.
Together, all the characters are our Sleepover Stars. They each have distinct character traits and dynamic personalities which helps drive the humor, plot and adventure. Our hope is that our readers love the characters as much as we love them and enjoy experiencing the adventure through the eyes of their new friends.
In “A Soccer (or Football) Sleepover in Brazil,” we introduce Fernão, a riddle-loving and soccer fan from Brazil. When we were coming up with his character, it became clear to us that Fernão was a charming boy full of heart, mischief and the love of soccer.
LL: The lack of diversity in literature and the media is a growing concern. Brazil is ethnically, culturally and geographically very different. Can you explain why you chose to write about Brazil?
GR: From the beginning, Global Sleepover has been committed to writing diverse stories—diverse in their setting, subject matter and characters. Our stories are about world cultures and global citizenship. We wanted to write a story about soccer, the beautiful game, and how it brings people from all over the world together. Brazil, with its immense diversity in culture, people and land as well as being the host country for the 2014 World Cup, was a natural choice for a country setting! We tried to portray Brazil’s richness in diversity and as a country with a strong economic footprint yet also highlight some of the issues facing Brazil today.
LL: Can you describe how you developed the character of Fernão—did you specifically choose to make him a diverse character?
GR: We specifically chose to make Fernão a diverse character. We also wanted to portray a character representational of a young soccer loving Brazilian boy. Once we started researching Brazil and kids in Brazil, it became clear to us that we wanted Fernão to be a hero! We wanted to tell the story of children in Brazil who do not have equal opportunities while also showing the example of empowerment. This is how we developed Fernão—a bright boy with a love of soccer, an open and big heart, empowered by the change he’s making with his Community Cup match and yet, at the same time, delightfully mischief.
LL: How did you come across the many interesting facts and photos you present in the storybook?
GR: Through lots of research! We spent hours researching, cross-referencing and reviewing the facts. We also carefully designed which facts appear in the text of the story, which facts (or information) appears through the visuals and which facts show up in the “fun facts” feature of the app.
LL: How did you pick the music that is included in the app?
GR: We scoured through many files by new musicians on the internet and picked the best ones to fit the mood and rhythm of the particular scene of the story. We intentionally chose music with no words to ensure the music was child appropriate.
LL: World Cup fever has taken over in many parts of the world and soccer is a game that is played by children of all socio-economic backgrounds. Do you think this universality lends itself to teaching children the values of sportsmanship and friendship?
GR: Absolutely! “The beautiful game” is a well-known nickname for soccer and this universal commonality of soccer is, to us, the main reason the beautiful game is so beautiful. This is the main focus of this story—we wanted to show the value of sport and community and how sports, soccer particularly, is a game that unifies children from all over the world and from various backgrounds. Sports (soccer specifically) is also used to show children one example of unification. In our Teacher’s Guide (available to download for free on our website), one of our Comprehension Questions for children is to name other ways they would bring their friends or members of their community together.
LL: Are you a fan of the sport?
GR: Without a doubt! I have World Cup fever which this year, because of this story, started months earlier than normal! Wish I could play better though!
LL: The storybook app, which includes games, maps, photos, and music, is a very interesting way to present a large amount of information that is age appropriate. Can you explain the process that went into developing the games and the maps?
GR: We have been designing this style of interactive storybook apps for over a year now. Our idea has been to preserve the beauty of a print book and enhance it with interactive and multi-media options – which has allowed us to present large amounts of information that can be unlocked at the user’s discretion. Still, in its most simplest form, the interactive storybook is a storybook at heart. We have just completed one year of testing in 6 countries with teachers, children, librarians and over 600 children – the results of which has gone directly into our design process.
LL: The Global Sleepover series is available in several languages and is in use in several countries. Do you plan to expand the series? Which countries do you think will be next in the series?
GR: Yes, absolutely! We plan on re-releasing earlier stories as improved versions, in various languages. Up next is a Sleepover During a Monsoon in India, Sleepover at the Northern Lights and Sleepover at the Amazon Jungle!
LL: Have the reactions to the series differed by country?
GR: Not so widely, actually. Children all over the world love world travel and find our country locations and destinations to be fascinating – no matter where they are from!
Read The Children’s Book Review‘s full review of Sleepover at the World Cup in Brazil.
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