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

Phil Bildner, illus. by Jesse Joshua Watson. Putnam, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-399-24790-3

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.)