The Banana-Leaf Ball

Hardcover Jacket
978-1-77138-331-8 | Apr 4, 2017 List Price:
USD $18.95, CAD $19.95

4-color • 9 x 12 • 32 pages
Grades: 3 To 6 / Ages: 8 to 12

Separated from his family when they were forced to flee their home, a young East African boy named Deo lives alone in the Lukole refugee camp in Tanzania. With scarce resources at the camp, bullies have formed gangs to steal what they can, and a leader named Remy has begun targeting Deo. Then one day a coach gathers all the children to play soccer. Though Deo loves soccer and has even made his own ball out of banana leaves, he’s unsure at first about joining in when he sees Remy on the field. But as Deo and the other boys get drawn into the game, everything begins to change. Their shared joy in playing provides the children — including Remy — with a sense of belonging. “Ball by ball, practice by practice, children who were once afraid of each other laugh together,” the book explains, and “no one feels so alone anymore.”

Based on a true story, Katie Smith Milway’s inspiring tale shows how a desperate situation can be improved by finding common ground through play. It provides an excellent starting point for discussing the social justice issues surrounding the growing number of refugees worldwide. Award-winning Shane W. Evans’s artwork powerfully and poignantly personalizes for children the experience of refugees. Furthermore, the book examines the value of using sports to build pro-social behavior, particularly as it relates to bullying. By depicting characters who change and evolve over the course of the story, kids of all backgrounds and experiences will find something positive to relate to. The back matter contains information about the “real” Deo, instructions for games that build trust and inclusion through play, and suggestions for how to support play-based nonprofit organizations.


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Educational Resources


Global awareness
Conflict and change


Guided Reading
Guided Reading Grade Level
Lexile Level



soccer   empathy   refugees   inclusiveness   resilience   war   refugee   refugee camp   bullies   teamwork   tolerance   confidence   sports


Teaching Guide
Book Trailer

Reviews & Awards


“This outside-looking-in depiction of the power of play to bridge new relationships in Burundi serves as a universal lesson that all readers can draw on.”
Kirkus Reviews, December 2016

“A moving story about how a single item can change a life and how playing can fill that life with joy.”
Booklist, January 2017

“This title will fill the gaps of any collection looking for more materials on the refugee crisis, and Burundi refugees in particular, and how the power of organized play can positively impact a dark time in any community.”
School Library Journal, May 2017

“… this book is sure to prompt deep conversations.”
School Library Connection, July 2017


2019 Alberta Children’s Choice Rocky Mountain Book Award, Short-listed
2018 Silver Birch Express Award, Ontario Library Association, Short-listed
2018 CCBC Choices 2018, Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Short-listed
2018 Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College, Winner
2018 Skipping Stones Honor List, Skipping Stones Magazine, Winner
2017 Eureka! Honor Award, California Reading Association, Winner
2017 Best Books for Kids & Teens, Starred Selection, Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Winner