January 28, 2017
Book Review: The Other Side
The Other Side. By Jacqueline Woodson. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001. 32 pages. $17.99
The Other Side, written by award winning author Jacqueline Woodson who is best known for Miracle’s Boys, brings readers back to when racism, discrimination, and segregation were prevalent in the South prior to the civil rights movement. This heartwarming story is told by a young, curious girl of color, Clover, who lives adjacent to an extensive wooden fence that segregates her entire town. One day, she notices Annie, her carefree Caucasian neighbor, on the other side of the fence. Clover and Annie were both forbidden by their mothers from playing on opposite sides of the fence because it was too dangerous, but eventually the girls work up the courage to introduce themselves to each other. As the Summer season passes on, Clover and Annie’s friendship grew. Despite physical and social barriers, Clover and Annie found a way to enter each other’s worlds. The Other Side is recommended if you are looking for ways to discuss acceptance and diversity with children who may or may not be included in diverse populations. In addition, I highly recommend this story for parents and teachers who are trying to start, or continue, discussions about acceptance, diversity, racism, discrimination, and segregation.
Jacqueline Woodson grew up in Greenville, South Carolina where her community was segregated, even after Jim Crow laws were supposed to be in effect. She used her personal experiences as an inspiration for many of her literary works. In this story, Woodson’s creative use of the fence becomes a physical symbol of the split between white people and people of color that even children at the pre-kindergarten level can understand. The innovative use of the fence signifies a conflict, the strong divide and separation that existed prior to the civil rights movement. With precise word choice, the author is able to capture the innocence and curiosity of the children as they try to understand the purpose of the fence. Woodson pulls you into the story by integrating language that activates your senses. You are hooked into the story as you can see, hear, smell, and feel the experience through Clover’s perspective. Through the characters’ dialogue, the author establishes and seamlessly uplifts the mood from longing, to hopeful, to optimistic. As the characters evolve, Clover and Annie realize one day someone should come and knock down the fence as their worlds have more similarities than differences. It is through this realization that the author sends a positive message about acceptance and diversity that creates an opportunity for children ages 3-11 to discuss these ideas, especially since racism and discrimination still exists in many forms in our world today.
Award winning illustrator E.B. Lewis’, best known for his illustrations in Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman, Down the Road, and My Rows and Piles of Coins, created gorgeous realistic watercolor illustrations that complement Woodson’s story of friendship across race during the pre-civil rights era. The use of non-vibrant colors and shadowed look of the pages portray feelings of longing, sadness, and confusion as to why the worlds on opposite sides of the fence are so different that the girls are not allowed to play together. The children’s body language throughout the story also changes with the mood the author creates. There are scenes that portray curiosity, understanding, and realization for change when the two girls realize that the fence should be knocked down and the two worlds can and should be combined.
This realistic fiction picture book can be integrated into Social Studies curriculum to help children understand life prior to the civil rights movement. It can also be used within the classroom, or at home, to support acceptance and diversity lessons. Again, I highly recommend this story for parents and teachers who are trying to start, or continue, discussions about acceptance, diversity, racism, discrimination, and segregation.