Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of The Soccer Fence for this book review; however, all opinions are my own.
As the World Cup draws to a close, it is worth remembering that the game has reverberations off the field as well as on. Kids around the world grow up playing football (soccer) on well-kept pitches, in dusty alleys, and on muddy fields. They cheer on their heroes, celebrating every kick and goal.
So what does it mean to someone born into apartheid in South Africa to later watch a newly integrated team win the African Cup of Nations?
Phil Bildner’s The Soccer Fence brilliantly captures the juxtaposition of two worlds in apartheid South Africa through the eyes of his main character, Hector, a boy who grows up playing soccer in an alley in a black township. Each time he goes with his mother to her housekeeping job in a white neighborhood, Hector yearns to play on the grassy pitch with the little boys he sees there, but they always ignore him.
Years later, after the breakdown of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela, Hector watches as the national soccer team – now made up of both black and white players – wins the African Cup of Nations. He is not the only one deeply moved by the victory, and the example of the integrated team has ripple effects into his own life.
This beautifully illustrated book can be read on several levels. At the most basic, it is a wonderful way to introduce your child to the idea of fair play and inclusion, but it can also be a great way to begin to discuss the history of apartheid in terms they can understand.
I highly recommended The Soccer Fence. It is primarily for school age children, though my preschooler also enjoyed it.