After spending hours reading to her kids, Lesley Van Arsdall wanted to write a children’s book to inspire her children and teach kids valuable lessons about hardwork and perseverance.
“I’m so proud to have this book,” said Van Arsdall, co-author of “The Mouse Who Played Football” and former CBS3 sports anchor. “I well up at the end, I mean, I’ve read this thing a million times and I just love it. I love the message and I just love what it says to kids.”
On Jan. 14, Temple University Press, Temple’s publishing body, announced that they will be publishing “The Mouse Who Played Football” by Brian Westbrook and Van Arsdall. The book will be released in July and half of the profits will go to nonprofits dedicated to helping children.
“The Mouse Who Played Football” is a children’s book about a mouse named Brian who plays football and is looked down upon because of his size and proves doubters wrong at each stage of his life, mirroring the experiences of Westbrook, former Eagles running back from 2002 to 2010.
Like Van Arsdall, Westbrook spends a lot of time reading to his children but feels that many children’s books are feel good stories that lack a message, he said. So when Van Arsdall reached out to see if he wanted to write a book about his life, Westbrook was enthusiastic about the idea.
Westbrook wants young readers to know that it’s what’s on the inside that counts and it is possible to succeed when the odds are against them, he said. He hopes the book will help adult readers recognize when they are looking down on other people so they can decide to treat them better.
“Maybe some adults reads this book and says ‘you know what? I’ve been in a situation like that myself and I could do different, I could be on the opposite end and treat someone a little bit different,’” Westbrook said.
The book came to TUP after being rejected by traditional publishers because it was considered too niche to sell to a general audience, said Ryan Mulligan, the sports editor at TUP.
TUP usually doesn’t publish children’s books, but picked up “The Mouse Who Played Football” because Westbrooks’ underdog story will resonate with Philadelphians, who are sometimes seen as little guys when compared to Washington D.C. or New York City, which are major political and cultural centers of America, Mulligan added.
“It’s kind of interesting to see how the part of the book of Brian being doubted by these people because he was too small and then when he got an opportunity he could succeed, that mirrors the journey the book itself took,” Mulligan said.
Though the book mirrors Westbrook’s life, he wants readers to focus on the message, not on him.
“For me, it was never necessarily about [Van Arsdall], certainly wasn’t about me,” Westbrook said. “This is about getting the true message to the kids.”
For Tom Uleau, an artist based in West Chester and an avid Eagles fan, working with Westbrook was surreal.
Westbrook and Van Arsdall connected with Uleau through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and contacted him through his website to be the book’s illustrator, Uleau said.
The job was a perfect fit for Uleau because it combined his love of drawing mice with his love of the Eagles, but he initially doubted himself because he’s never been published before, Uleau added.
“I warned them, I was like, ‘hey, I read the story, this is great but I might not be your guy,’” Uleau said. “I’ll do some sketches for you, so you have something to present to them.’”
Despite his doubts, Uleau was selected and began working on the book in January 2021, he said.
The book went into production in September and despite being fast tracked through the printing process so the release will coincide with the start of the Eagles training camp, TUP is making sure “The Mouse Who Played Football” is a quality product, Mulligan said.
“Eagles fans, for them, this isn’t just something to read,” Mulligan added. “This is something that’s going to sit on their coffee table and be almost sort of like a beloved piece of furniture or art in their house. We want to make sure that we are giving them a quality product.”
Westbrook is proud of what he and Van Arsdall have done with their book and hopes that one day his kids will look back on his work and be proud of him as well.
“If they read this book, they can be proud of daddy and to me that’s the most important part,” Westbrook said.
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