Thursday, August 02, 2007

Review: Across the Alley

by Richard Michelson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis. (Click that link and scroll down to see the absolutely gorgeous illustrations) G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2006. This picture book is immediately appealing to my son Buddy because it is about:
  1. baseball,
  2. learning to play the violin,
  3. two boys in friendship,
  4. a black kid and a white kid
  5. (most dramatically shown on the cover) the boys are tossing a baseball across an alleyway from one open window to another.
He said right away "Why are they throwing that ball through the window? They shouldn't do that, should they?" One boy is Jewish and his grandfather thinks he is practicing the violin before going to bed. The other boy is Black and his father wants him to be practicing his pitching wind-up. They each secretly admire the other's opportunities. They understand the unspoken racist rules of adults that keep them from being friends outside in the daylight. They compare family histories and discover both of their relatives struggled against oppression, slavery and violence.

They quietly agree to switch equipment, passing the violin across the alley and tossing the baseball. The Black boy plays beautifully and the Jewish boy strengthens his arm, dreaming of playing pitcher in a big game. One night the Jewish grandfather walks in and discovers that the excellent violin playing he has been listening to is not coming from his grandson. We hold our breath for a moment with the two boys, waiting for his reaction. He breaks into a smile and compliments the budding violinist. He shows him the proper position for his bow.

Next week the two families are walking down the street together, not caring what the world may think. The Black boy plays violin beautifully at Temple and the Jewish boy pitches in the Black neighborhood game at the sandlot. The wonder is that the families of both boys reach across their divide and welcome the friendship to flourish.

This is a very sweet and hopeful book. Buddy is a little young to understand the full nuance of the tension and the history between the races, but he gets the energy of the children's friendship working to overcome their separated positions. He would like to learn both baseball and violin, so this friendship is one he respects. I think the book would be great for older children as a discussion starter or writing prompt. Kids in third through fifth grade studying race, culture, ethnicity and/or history could have a lot to say on the predicament of children caught in a world shaped by hatred and segregation. It's the world they live in and the problems for which they seek creative solutions, after all.

Another review of the book:
Just One More Book podcast


ElsKushner said...

Nice review! I just happened upon this book the other day at a bookstore, and thought it would be a good companion read-aloud to "The Other Side" by Jacqueline Woodson. (Same illustrator, too, I think.)

Elaine Magliaro said...


Michelson was a speaker at the Simmons College Children's Literature Institute that I attended last week. ACROSS THE ALLEY was one of the books he discussed.

I've been enjoying your photographs of butterflies!

Camille said...

I adore the artwork of E.B. Lewis. Thank you so much for highlighting this book.

Perky said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I've ordered it through my library and we're eagerly anticipating its arrival!