The Soccer Fence: A Story of Friendship, Hope and Apartheid in South Africa

illus. by Jesse Joshua Watson. 40p. Putnam. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399247903; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780698149724. LC 2013014675.
Gr 1–3—Apartheid has ended in South Africa, but a young boy learns that change takes time in this story of friendship and of a nation healing. Hector plays soccer with his sister in the barren field in his township in Johannesburg. What he really wants is to play with the white boys on the lush green field he sees when his mother takes him to the other part of the city where she works, but they never acknowledge the black boy. Newspaper headlines give a history of South Africa from the announcement that apartheid is over to President Mandela being elected (with Hector's family allowed to vote) to South Africa's hosting the 1996 African Cup of Nations. Each historic step is paralleled by the boys' soccer games in their individual neighborhoods as they root for their South African team, Bafana Bafana, throughout the tournament. When their team makes the finals, both boys attend the game and recognize each other from years of watching from the other side of the fence and raise fists in acknowledgement as they lead the procession of cheering fans in a symbolic uniting of a divided country. Bright acrylic paints and broad pencil strokes bring the characters to life while Bildner's first-person narrative personalizes Hector's childhood during these momentous events. Historical notes provide more detail in this effective introduction to apartheid and Nelson Mandela in a tender tribute to which young readers will be able to relate.—Kristine M. Casper, Huntington Public Library, NY
This picture book for older children packs a lot of sports and political history into forty pages. Set in 1990s South Africa, the story centers on two boys--one black, one white--who finally can play soccer together after the South African multiracial team wins the Africa Cup. The strong mixed-media illustrations reflect the text's emotion and energy. A historical note is appended. Timeline. Bib.

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