The 101 Picture Book Challenge includes a lot of amazing books, including “The Other Side” by Jacqueline Woodson.When is a picture book about a fence also a picture book about intolerance and justice and acceptance? Jacqueline Woodson’s “The Other Side” has your answer.
“Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.”
Metaphor is a big part of how art works because it’s a big part of how people work. Some evolutionary psychologists say that humans are programmed to perceive patterns in the world, but it seems likely that we’re similarly programmed to detect metaphoric significance – to discern the ways in which something that’s right in front of us can stand in for something bigger. It’s a skill that helps us to make sense of the world, to draw conclusions, to annoy friends with our overly clever comparisons.
Maybe you’re not a fan of metaphor, in literature or otherwise. Maybe you think sometimes a great white whale is just a great white whale. But one of the fun things about metaphors is how big and obvious and unembarrassed – and effective – they can be.
For instance, if you’re writing about racial segregation, the idea of telling a story about a fence that divides a town, and the children who are wary of engaging with the people on the other side of that fence, might seem a little on-the-nose. But in the hands of award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson –- recipient of the National Book Award, and current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature – “The Other Side” turns out to be a powerful, nuanced, and moving meditation on the attractions of difference, the struggle for justice, and the ache of yearning for human connection.
It also doesn’t hurt that the fence might very possibly be based on a real fence. “Brown Girl Dreaming,” Woodson’s acclaimed autobiographical novel in verse, tells of her childhood experiences with segregation, and the details in “The Other Side” have a concrete, lived-in verisimilitude. Just because something’s metaphorical doesn’t mean it can’t also be totally true.
Part of what makes “The Other Side” so compelling is its attention to recognizable detail, both in Woodson’s spare and lyrical text and in E.B. Lewis’s expressive paintings. The self-protective masks of suspicion worn by the children as they regard someone new; the unselfconscious abandon with which a girl slouches into her bedroom window to watch for her neighbor; the casual postures in which kids from either side sit together on the fence in a nonchalant and nearly accidental act of collective defiance.
It’s a small story. And also an enormous story. If you’ve read books about prejudice and social progress before, the ending probably won’t surprise you. But the outcome is as poignant and as inspiring as it is foreseeable. In her author’s note, Woodson writes, “I wanted this to be a story about the way in which young people change the world each day through their seemingly simple acts of resistance.” Not bad for a story about a fence.
More Picture Books With Metaphors
Note: Some of the books featured in this post are available in eMedia as well – check hoopla and Overdrive for availability.
What is the 101 Picture Book Challenge?
The 101 Picture Book Challenge is for anyone at any age. Librarians hand picked the titles on the list which includes classics, new titles and everything in between.
To get started, register online. You can track your progress online or if you prefer a paper log booklet, pick one up at your neighborhood Library. The books are organized into categories but you can read the books in any order and at your own pace. When you read all 101 titles, you earn a free picture book (while supplies last).
This is the latest in a series of blog posts exploring some of the things we love about these books.