Kid Lit Review of “Across the Alley” by Richard Michelson

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This is a story about two boys who live across the alley from one another. Willie is black and Abe is Jewish. Every night, when the lights go out, the two open their windows that face each other:

“During the day we don’t play together, but at night, when nobody’s watching, Willie and I are best friends.”

It turns out that Willie’s dad wants him to be a baseball player, and Abe’s grandpa wants him to play the violin. Neither one of them is on board with these plans, and in fact, each wants to do what the other is supposed to do. So at night, they teach each other; Abe hands Willie his violin and shows him how to play, and Willie helps Abe practice baseball.

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One night Grandpa hears the violin through Abe’s closed door, comes in, and sees it is Willie who is playing. Abe holds his breath, but then Grandpa says to Willie, “You’ll be the next Jascha Heifetz” and shows him the correct position of the bow. Then Grandpa invites Willie to play the violin at his synagogue.

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As the four of them walk down the street, Willie’s dad says:

“Let people stare. . . . Ignorance comes in as many colors as talent.”

After that, Willie’s dad helps Abe pitch, while Grandpa is on the sidelines with the other black parents, cheering away.

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Light, lovely watercolors by E. B. Lewis capture the emotions of the characters just right.

Evaluation: This winning story has lots of good messages and beautiful artwork.

Rating: 4/5

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2006

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4 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Across the Alley” by Richard Michelson

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    Great message for parents and kids and beautiful illustrations!

  2. jama says:

    Oh, hadn’t seen this one. It looks wonderful!! Thanks for featuring it.

  3. Very glad to learn about this via the Jewish Book Carnival. Question: What is the temporal setting for this story?

    • It’s a good question. It isn’t clear in the book. The Kirkus Review said it was “clearly set during the time of segregation” but the only reason I would go with that is because, ironically, back then I think there would have been less residential segregation. This book by the way was a 2006 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.

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