Like many Americans, this summer I have become a bandwagon soccer fan. I'm not sure why, but there is something about the World Cup and all these countries setting aside their differences to join together over a common sport that ignites a flame of patriotism in my heart. I have been shamelessly watching and cheering alongside the rest of the country for many weeks. This is one of the many reasons Phil Bildner's new book The Soccer Fence nestled in and found a place in my heart (right next to that flame of patriotism ;) ).
The Soccer Fence tells the story of Johannesburg in 1990 as the "apartheid began to crumble". As Americans, we can relate all to well to a story of laws changing at a different rate of speed than people hearts. Though South Africa saw glimmers of hope on the horizon in the crumbling of the apartheid and freedom of Nelson Mandela, the stories main character, Hector, finds out there are things that are not changing. He is still not welcome to play soccer with white boys his age. The story marches on and covers many important events in the history of South Africa. Each time Hector approaches the soccer pitch the white boys play on, he is snubbed. In the background of this story, we learn that South Africa is hosting the 1996 African Cup of Nations.
In the end, the game of soccer unites more than just a two boys of different backgrounds. It tells the story of the power of sports to unite a nation, even in darker times.
This uplifting story is taken to a whole other level with its gorgeous illustrations done by Jesse Joshua Watson. The pictures are so magnificent, that this book entered my top 5 Caldecott hopefuls for the year. I recommend you find a way to get your hands on this book. You will be happy you did!