We had the opportunity to interview the talented children’s book illustrator Raquel Catalina. She studied fine arts in Madrid, then earned a postgraduate degree in illustration in Valencia. In 2021, the original version of Madani’s Best Game was selected as a NYPL Best Spanish-Language Book for Kids.

What made you decide to become an illustrator?

I remember myself as a child looking in fascination at the pictures in my favorite books and trying to copy them. I like to think that some child looks the same way at mine now.

Raquel Catalina

Did you attend any art school or do any other formal art training?

Yes, I studied Fine Arts at the Complutense University of Madrid and later a postgraduate degree in illustration at the ESAT (Valencia Higher School of Art and Technology).

Have you always liked to draw?

Yes, always. I had two desks that were paradise for me, my father’s and my grandfather’s. They never lacked an abundance of paper, markers, fountain pens…and I’ve spent hours and hours drawing there. When my grandfather died, I salvaged his desk and now it’s in my study.

Illustration by Raquel Catalina from Madani’s Best Game

What are you most passionate about in this job?

Without a doubt, each project will take you to a different place. and you will live for a few months immersed in it. It is exciting the moment you receive the text and all the possibilities are open, and how, little by little, the idea is forged.

What is a typical day like at your job?

Since my studio is at home and I have two small children, I try to be very organized with my schedules. I like to get up early and take advantage of the silence of the first hours of the day. I stop briefly to eat and, if I can, I take a walk along the river that passes near my house.

What is the process of illustrating a book?; How do you go from an idea to a finished work for sale in bookstores?

Almost a third of the time it takes me to illustrate a book is spent deciding how to approach it and documenting it. I read and reread the text, I rest it in my head, and in a notebook, I begin to write down or sketch any image or word that it suggests to me. I look for references and I gather them in a folder. When I think I have given shape to my idea, the work with the editor begins. My experience in this regard is very good, in collaboration with the publisher the book definitely takes shape and from there they begin an intense work drawing.

Illustration by Raquel Catalina from Madani’s Best Game

What is your favorite illustration from Madani’s Best Game?

I really like the image of Madani’s mother sewing, I think I managed to convey the feeling of intimacy and muffled noise from outside. I am also satisfied with the collection of secondary characters, the residents of the neighborhood, who were very important to me because I think the story is told from their point of view.

When you are not drawing, what hobbies do you have?

I really like to read and I need contact with nature more and more, taking long walks. Right now I am also learning to embroider—I am seduced by the idea of ​​drawing with thread.

Can you tell us something that people don’t know about you?

Well, I don’t like soccer at all! In Spain it is an incredibly popular sport, and when I read Fran Pintadera’s story I thought, “My goodness, how many players does a soccer team have?” I had to teach myself, although I have to say that above all I looked for photos of children playing in the street, from anywhere in the world and from any time. I think that connected with the spirit of the book, and I really enjoyed it. Oh, and there are eleven players!

Madani’s Best Game

Written by Fran Pintadera
Illustrated by Raquel Catalina
Translated by Lawrence Schimel

Ages 5 to 9


A heartfelt book featuring a neighborhood soccer team and its determined young star, who has a secret plan even more impressive than his bicycle kicks.

Junior Library Guild Selection

No one plays soccer like Madani. When the ball lands on his bare feet, the whole town stops to watch. Even Madani’s mother—still sewing the day’s work at home—can hear the crowds cheer when he scores. His teammates wonder what their best player could do, if he only had a proper pair of cleats. As Madani saves up money, bit by bit, his team’s rivalry match approaches. Maybe he’ll have new cleats in time for the big day! Or maybe Madani has a different goal in mind…

Told with gentle humor and lively illustrations, Madani’s Best Game is a refreshing story about the joys of sports, teamwork, and family.

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