Just in time to capitalize on World Cup fever, a soccer-centric middle-grade series that’s been making waves abroad is arriving in the U.S. The Wild Soccer Bunch series by Joachim Masannek, illustrated by Jan Birck, follows the adventures of a young, coed soccer team, with each book focusing on a different player. The series was originally published in Germany in 2002 under the name Die Wilden Fußballkerle, growing to 13 books in three years’ time. There are now more than nine million copies of the books in print in 29 countries, yet they hadn’t been translated into English until now. The first book, Kevin, the Star Striker, went on sale in late May from Sole Books, a new Beverly Hills-based venture that is owned by Wild Soccer USA, which has rights to the series in English-language territories, as well as film and merchandising rights.
Why the series had yet to be brought to English-speaking countries is a mystery to Yitzhak Ginsberg, publisher of Sole Books, who first became acquainted with the soccer series at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2008 (the books spawned five movies in Germany, which Masannek wrote and directed). As to why the Wild Soccer Bunch has become so popular in other markets, Ginsberg believes soccer is just a “backdrop” and only a part of the equation. “The spirit of the Bunch, a lot of it is about the world ‘wild.’ Kids want to be a little bit out of the box. The other reason is that everybody on the team has a voice,” he says. “I think it’s very appealing for kids to be able to relate to different characters [and think], ‘Maybe I’m not the star of the dteam, but I have a voice, I have a book, and I’m telling my story.’ ”
After tracking down Hebrew editions of the books in Israel, Ginsberg set about acquiring rights to the series from the German publisher, Baumhaus Verlag, and, with Wild Soccer USA, created Sole Books to publish the books here. “I created an entity that is almost virtual, with people working in America, Australia, and Israel,” Ginsberg says. “You could call it micropublishing in a way. The printer is in Michigan, the distributor [Pathway] is in New Hampshire. It’s really a new age kind of operation.”
In addition to translating the books into English, the stories are also being “localized”: the Wild Soccer Bunch is set outside of Chicago, while the original stories took place in Munich (other translations of the books are set in other cities, as well). The process, Ginsberg says, involves getting the vernacular right—“not only putting it in an American city.”
In terms of marketing the Wild Soccer Bunch, Ginsberg says that Sole Books is “heavily investing” in online marketing and will eventually be running TV and radio advertisements. The series also has a very high-profile face promoting it: soccer star Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy, who is a paid endorser of the books (and who is having a very good week at the World Cup). “Landon is really carrying the campaign in the next 12 months,” Ginsberg says. “I knew that he was one of the biggest soccer stars in America and I knew he was a very eloquent person. He comes from a family of teachers, and it’s appealing for him to endorse something that’s nontraditional for athletes. He’s doing Nike, he’s doing Gatorade, he’s doing the Wild Soccer Bunch.”
Ginsberg says Sole Books is only now getting orders from bookstores, though the books are for sale online. A second book, Diego the Tornado, will be out in December, with subsequent books in the series to follow. Ginsberg, whose background is in the film industry (he founded independent film company Dream Entertainment 17 years ago) hopes to remake the Wild Soccer Bunch films for an American audience. He also says that, while the Wild Soccer Bunch is his main focus, Sole Books is also investigating a handful of other children’s properties with film potential.
The Wild Soccer Bunch, Book 1: Kevin the Star Striker by Joachim Masannek, illus. by Jan Birck. Sole Books, $12.95, ages 9-12. ISBN 978-0-9844257-0-9