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.)[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC
Gr 1-3--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.--Kristine M. Casper, Huntington Public Library, NY[Page 73]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.