Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Other Side

Title: The Other Side
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: E.B.Lewis
Publisher: G.P.Putnam's Sons, NY
Picture Courtesy -

"There is no school on Monday, no mail on Monday. And do you know why?", began the teacher. I was at my daughter's kinder room when it was my turn to help out, and I overheard the teacher beginning to read a book on Martin Luther King. I could not take my eyes off of the little ones' faces, curious to know how they would absorb it all. They listened with intent. Silence ensued. And then they dispersed. I felt cheated when I could not comprehend what went through their minds. That afternoon I walked back home wondering how I could talk to my daughter on what Martin Luther stood for and how I could present the historical significance that surrounds him. The customary discomfort that preceded talks (with her) on "unhappy" truths, was again telling me that I was soon going to be guilty of adulterating the innocent mind. Even though, in most cases, the terminating message was good.

So, when I was at the library this weekend, I nonchalantly scanned the shelves for something besides King's biography, and something that did not scream strong language or characters. The Other Side turned out to be the kind of book that would be an ally in my mission. In fact, it won me over to find a spot on Saffron Tree to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. today!

The opening spread, in stunning yet soft water colors, takes us to a flowery patch amidst lush greenery and scattered houses. A lengthy fence catches the eye in the middle of the rural scene. Just as we warm up to the narrative of a little African-American girl, Clover, we get involved in the incident that occurred one summer, when she noticed a white girl on the other side of the fence, staring at her. The fence is a repeating detail in the illustrations on most pages. Annie, is the lonely girl across the fence yearning to be included in the outdoor games Clover and her little group play all day. Clover also finds herself admiringly looking at Annie's free-spiritedness. And then one day, things change. Clover and Annie exchange smiles and names. Annie invites Clover to join her on the fence. The girls exploit the technicality that their mothers' never opposed their sitting on the fence. A fence like this was made for sitting on, we hear Annie say. By the end of that summer a friendship is born. It is not long before Annie is seen playing together with the rest of Clover's gang. And the book ends with this -

"Someday somebody's going to come along and knock this old fence down", Annie said. And I nodded.

"Yeah," I said. "Someday".

Yes, the fence is the metaphor. But the literal meaning sufficed. There was no need to mention civil rights or segregation. A warm setting, with girls her own age or older brought the much needed comfort, and kindled curiosity in my 5 yr old. I embraced the subtlety and capitalized on the situation. I mentioned King. She stared at the portrayals of Annie and the girls carelessly sitting on the fence and told me a few things. I think she will understand his context now.

The book reminded me that children have the power to make a change. Innocence is probably the secret. The story in The Other Side, I thought, brought Matin Luther King's dream closer to reality.

Jacqueline Woodson's another book "Coming On Home Soon" has been reviewed earlier, read it here -


Choxbox said...

Awesome book and awesome review.

sathish said...

very nice meera.

SoulSpace said...

I love this story...
the fence can stand for so many things..barriers, fears, inhibitions...

ranjani.sathish said...

beautiful review Meera !

Praba Ram said...

A very special pick and a lovely review!
Happy MLK day!

Love the cover - the rural backdrop with Clover on the tire-swing..beautiful.

E.B.Lewis drawings are simply awesome, aren't they? Remember my earlier review of Coming on Home Soon -

May be we could cross-post this one here, and have a special collection of African-American themed picture books. Princess and Amazing Grace are two all-time favs - Chox had it in one of her reviews.

Thanks, M!

Praba Ram said...

Coming on Home Soon also by Jacqueline Woodson.

Meera Sriram said...

Choxbox, Ranjani & Sathish, thanks.
Ssstoryteller, you are right - the "fence" could represent a lot of dark things.
Praba, yea..the paintings of E.B.L are amazing, its almost like you are with the realistic, so warm. Also, I've pointed to your review of Coming on Home Soon in mine. Thanks!

Nivita said...

great review, Meera. It definitely prodded me to request this book from my library.

Poppins said...

A really goose-bump inducing review. Loved this pick Meera !

utbtkids said...

"The book reminded me that children have the power to make a change. Innocence is probably the secret."

Very very true Meera.

Meera Sriram said...

Poppins, glad you liked it. UTBT, glad you agree:)

Sheela said...

You said it so beautifully, Meera. I admire your courage to pick out what some of us have come to avoid - "uncomfortable themes" - and find a simple way to introduce it to our kids.

Your topical posts at ST has always inspired me. Thanks again, Meera!

Meera Sriram said...

Thank you Sheela. I am sure we can all relate to the queasiness before presenting raw truths to our children - that is the primary motivation behind making this post highly personal. And good books always come to the recue:)

utbtkids said...

Meera, just read this book. It had been in the library bag for the past ten days. But I wanted to sit with the girls when I had a good chunk of time to talk about it, so kept postponing it and today at last.....

I loved it. Kids for all their powers of picking up subtleties and grasping the mood, can be so low-context! They are so in the moment and hence it is easy for them to chime in changes.

The little one just went along with the reading. The older one knew quite a bit about the Dr.King. She quoted Rosa Parks, of course not by name, but by what she did and I did a double take!

Meera Sriram said...

Glad to know you read it with your girls, Utbt. Isn't Woodson's methaphors and story amazing?
Thanks for leaving me a note:)

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