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

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Annotation: Each time Hector watches white boys playing soccer in Johannesburg, South Africa, he dreams of playing on a real pitch one day and after the fall of apartheid, when he sees the 1996 African Cup of Nations team, he knows that his dream can come true.
Catalog Number: #79264
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition Date: 2014
Illustrator: Watson, Jesse Joshua,
Pages: 40
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-399-24790-4 Perma-Bound: 0-605-80219-X
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-399-24790-3 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-80219-3
Dewey: E
LCCN: 2013014675
Dimensions: 23 x 28 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Hector tells of apartheid's gradual breakdown, which happened while he was growing up in South Africa. As a young black boy, he watches white boys playing soccer, but they ignore his request to join their game. Years pass and changes come. After the first open election, Nelson Mandela becomes president. Later, South Africa hosts a soccer tournament and wins with an integrated team. And, at long last, a white boy invites Hector to play soccer with him. Bildner overcomes some of the problems inherent in a picture book with a time frame extending over several years. Roughly four years old in the opening scenes, Hector is in his early teens at the end, but the illustrations convincingly portray the boys as they grow up, while the narrative thread connecting the story's events is strong. Combining pencil drawings and acrylics, the illustrations are colorful and expressive. An appended apartheid timeline, aimed at a much older audience, briefly discusses significant events. This unusual picture bookshows social change as it affects one boy.
Horn Book
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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)
Publishers Weekly
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.)
School Library Journal
Gr 1&11;3&12; 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.&12; Kristine M. Casper, Huntington Public Library, NY
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Word Count: 1,015
Reading Level: 4.0
Interest Level: K-3
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.0 / points: 0.5 / quiz: 166692 / grade: Lower Grades

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.

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