The Soccer Fence: A story of friendship, hope, and apartheid in South Africa

Overview

In a country struggling with acceptance, hope can come in many different forms.
 
As a boy, Hector loved playing soccer in his small Johannesburg township. He dreamed of playing on a real pitch with the boys from another part of the city, but apartheid made that impossible. Then, in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and apartheid began to crumble. The march toward freedom in South Africa was a slow one, but when the beloved ...

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Overview

In a country struggling with acceptance, hope can come in many different forms.
 
As a boy, Hector loved playing soccer in his small Johannesburg township. He dreamed of playing on a real pitch with the boys from another part of the city, but apartheid made that impossible. Then, in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and apartheid began to crumble. The march toward freedom in South Africa was a slow one, but when the beloved Bafana Bafana national soccer team won the African Cup of Nations, Hector realized that dreams once impossible could now come true.
 
This poignant story of friendship artfully depicts a brief but critical moment in South Africa’s history and the unique role that sports can play in bringing people together.

A 2014 Parents' Choice Award Silver Honor Winner for Non-Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/23/2013
This gentle yet penetrating story underscores the power of sports to unite, while providing an overview of the seismic changes the 1990s brought to South Africa. Bildner (The Unforgettable Season) uses soccer as a metaphor for apartheid; the narrator is a black boy who kicks around an "egg-shaped" ball with his sister and friends in his ramshackle Johannesburg township. During trips to a wealthier neighborhood, the boy sees a white boy playing soccer with his friends in a lush park; though he is eager to join the game, the other players ignore him. Bildner moves quickly through recent South African history, touching on Nelson Mandela's release from prison, the end of apartheid, Mandela's election as president, and the country's 1996 victory in the African Cup of Nations, which brings the two boys together. Watson (Hope for Haiti) sets the scenes with gestural pencil drawings, while painting the main characters and the soccer action in rich, vivid acrylics. Concise historical notes follow the story, giving readers helpful context. Ages 6–8. Author's agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Illustrator's agent: Rubin Pfeffer, East West Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-29
A tale of sports bridging cultural and racial chasms. This story begins during apartheid with a young South African boy who accompanies his mother from their shanty in a Johannesburg township to her job in the home of a wealthy white family. Adept at soccer, the boy longs to play on the fenced green lawn with the white boys, but he can only watch from outside the fence until one day, he gets to bicycle kick the ball back over the fence. The stark color contrasts throughout the book alternate between the rich greens and blues of the white boys' lush lawn and purple and orange scenes, in which democracy begins and Mandela is released from prison and then becomes president. When the boys and the country unite to cheer on their mixed-race soccer team, Bafana Bafana (meaning "The Boys, The Boys"), and celebrate their victory over Tunisia in the African Cup of Nations, Watson creates a jubilant scene awash in yellow. The wordless final page hints at a brighter future for a South Africa positively influenced by the people's passion for sports. Bildner and Watson offer young readers an informative snapshot of a divided land through the lens of boys who just want to play. (Picture book. 5-9)
School Library Journal
06/01/2014
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399247903
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 3/13/2014
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 212,162
  • Age range: 6 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

An avid soccer fan, Phil Bildner has sat on the Real Madrid bench at el Estadio de Santiago Bernabéu, and he has watched from the bleachers as Lionel Messi scored a hat trick during an Argentina-Brazil showdown. Away from the pitch, Phil was an attorney and taught middle school in the New York City public schools. He is the author of the Texas Bluebonnet Award–winning Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy, and the co-author with Loren Long of the New York Times bestselling Sluggers series.
 
 
Jesse Joshua Watson has traveled extensively, developing a deep passion for sharing the beauty of the world’s cultures. He has always cared deeply about South Africa—in high school he campaigned for Nelson Mandela’s freedom by organizing awareness and student action. In addition to writing and illustrating books and teaching art to kids, Jesse plays soccer religiously. He lives in Port Townsend, Washington, with his wife and their sons.

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