Everyone’s eyes are on World Cup soccer for the next month, and The Soccer Fence by Phil Bildner, a thought-provoking and hope-filled soccer book for kids set in the waning days of South African Apartheid, is perfect for reading breaks between games.
The book tells the story of Hector, a soccer-loving young Black child living in a Johannesburg township. When he travels to the wealthier “whites only” sections with his mother, he notices the stark difference between his neighborhood’s dirt-and-gravel makeshift soccer fields and the white kids’ lush green lawns. He also sadly notices how he is ignored and not invited to play by the other children.
This is an especially sobering read for kids who have grown up knowing only President Obama, especially when they realize the story is set in not so long ago in 1990. (Though to children, any time before they were born may seem long ago.)
Hector’s family is elated when Nelson Mandela is freed from prison, although Hector himself notes, the march towards progress “was slow” as he continues to be snubbed by the white children on the soccer field. It isn’t until the Cup of Nations is played and South Africans everywhere unite to support their local team Bafana Bafana that Hector is able to see that his country is changing.
Jesse Joshua Watson’s illustrations tell their own story, from the browish-orange background of Hector’s village which is ringed in barbed wire, to the bright greens and blues of the whites-only world. When Hector and the blond-haired Chris finally run off together to play soccer, the background fittingly changes to a muted green, perhaps symbolic of the growth of the South African people as they move away from years of apartheid.
The Soccer Fence by Phil Bildner is available at our affiliate Amazon or indie bookstores near you.