Wednesday, July 18, 2012
The Other Side
illustrated by E.B. Lewis
G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin | January 15, 2001
Tenth anniversary edition published 2011
If you don't know Jacqueline Woodson, go seek her books out. She is a force and her books are amazing from picture books like this one to her novels for middle grade readers and beyond. She tackles tough issues and sweet happenings both with aplomb, and she portrays people of color - mostly African Americans - prolifically and often in a way that was previously missing from literature for young people.
This poignant picture book is told from the point of view of Clover, a young girl whose mother makes it clear she can play in the yard, but she can't climb over the fence that lines their property. One summer, another young girl, who Clover eventually learns is named Annie, starts showing up on the other side of the fence. When she asks if she can jump rope with the kids on the other side, Clover's friend Sandra tells her no pretty quickly. You see, Annie is white while Clover and her friends are black.
The day Annie and Clover finally speak to each other, they both confess their mothers have told them they can't go on the other side of the fence. But both figure out pretty quickly that nobody forbade them to sit upon it together. What results is beautiful and amazingly well written by Woodson and in the end questions the old adage that fences make good neighbors.
I heard Woodson speak last summer about a different picture book, Pecan Pie Baby, which had just won an award. During that talk, she talked a bit about this story. When she originally conceived it, she pictured it as a modern-day tale, perhaps set in the city, similar to where she and her family live today. But the illustrator placed it as a period piece, which is how it lives on, and Woodson said she loves it that way. It's pretty beautiful, actually. The illustrations are expansive and old-timey, but show universal scenes of family and home that any modern child will recognize.
The story could be just a story. Or it could be a jumping off point for discussing difference, diversity, and the inherent sameness amongst us with even the tiniest child. We have a lot in the world of children's literature to thank Woodson for - this is but one example.