Written by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001
That summer the fence that stretched through our town seemed bigger.
What makes this book so dangerous? It deals with racism and segregation.
The fence separates the white families from the black families and Clover’s mother tells her not to climb over it because it’s not safe. But that summer, she sees a white girl who climbs up the fence and watches her. The girl asks to play when Clover is jumping rope with her friends and her friend Sandra says no. She asks her mama why the fence makes the other people feel so far away and her mama tells her that it’s always been that way. One day, Clover goes close to the fence and the girl introduces herself as Annie. The two girls smile at each other and realize that, although both of their mothers told them not to cross the fence, they were never told not to sit on it. After that, the two girls spend lots of time together, sitting on the fence. At first, Clover’s friends don’t know what to make of the situation, but one day, they ask both girls to join them. And when they get tired, all the girls sit on the fence together. Annie says that someday, someone will knock the fence down and Clover agrees.
Author Jacqueline Woodson has written the quintessential picture book on segregation with this simple but eloquently moving story. She manages to write books about difficult issues, such as race, gender identity and socioeconomic differences in a way that makes the characters relatable to everyone, helping readers to really understand the narrator’s point of view. I feel that this book in particular is meant to be read aloud, so you can capture Clover’s voice and really see the story through her eyes. Ms. Woodson’s words are so wonderfully chosen that it feels like poetry and it hits you right in the heart. There’s nothing heavy handed or manipulative about it. It’s just very real and lovely.
Every bit as perfect as the story text is the incredibly beautiful watercolor artwork from illustrator E.B. Lewis, with pictures that looks so real in places that you might mistake them for photographs. The fence that stands as the symbol of segregation is wonderfully framed within the pictures, showing how the very thing that was created to keep them apart is what actually brings these two together. My favorite picture is the one shown above with all of the girls sitting on the fence together, looking bored, oblivious to the major step they’ve all taken in overcoming society’s prejudices. Challenges to this book have accused it of calling attention to racism and portraying the races in stereotypical ways, which I find unfathomable.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the obstacles that keep you from befriending others, especially those who seem different from you, are not always as tough to overcome as they seem.