Friday, January 20, 2012

Fences: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

That summer the fence that stretched through our town seemed bigger.

We lived on one side of it.

White people lived on the other.

And Mama said, "Don't climb over that fence when you play." She said it wasn't safe.

"Good fences make good neighbors," said Robert Frost, but he was a crusty New England farmer worried about footloose cows, and even that solitary poet found that good neighbors can come together in their shared humanity.

And as all kids know, fences are made for climbing.

That summer, trying to be a good girl for her mama, Clover keeps to her side, sometimes a bit lonely for a playmate and always curious about the white family just moved into the white house on the other side of that fence.

But Annie is more daring than Clover, and she dares to climb and sit on the top rail, looking curiously as Clover plays in the yard of her yellow house. Early summer brings a string of rainy days, and Clover watches longingly as that girl plays outside in the rain and even splashes in the forbidden puddles.

When at last the sun returns, Clover feels brave enough to approach the fence where that girl is sitting.

I got close to the fence and that girl asked me my name.

We stood there smiling.

"It's nice up on this fence," said Annie. "A fence like this was made for climbing."

"My mama said I shouldn't go on the other side," I said.

"My mama says the same thing. But she never said anything about sitting on it."

Fence-sitting slowly turns into a tentative friendship as the summer warms up, and one fine day, when Clover's friends come over for a game of jump-rope, Annie feels brave enough to slip down on the other side and join the game, and after some fun together, all the girls take a rest on the top rail of that fence, and for the moment, that fence is just a fence made for climbing and sitting.

"Someday sombody's going to come along an knock this old fence down," Annie said.

"Yeah," I said. "Someday."

The multi-award winning Jacqueline Woodson's The Other Side (G.P. Putnam's Sons) returns in its tenth anniversary (2011) edition, as moving and meaningful as ever. Woodson's text is perfect, telling this iconic story so simply and well that it avoids didacticism, and E. B. White's watercolor paintings are so stunning that they practically tell the story without the need for words. Humans have long felt a fear and yet an attraction for the "other," and the combination of text and art reveal this truth of trans-fence-friendship found as well as it can be told.

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