Across the Alley

Richard Michel­son; E.B. Lewis, illus.
  • Review
By – November 11, 2011

This beau­ti­ful book is per­fect for grand­par­ents to enjoy with their grand­chil­dren. Who else could fond­ly recall the alleys, stoops, and apart­ment hous­es where chil­dren could lean out of bed­room win­dows to speak with a friend across the way? Ref­er­ences to Sandy Koufax, Satchel Page, Jascha Heifetz, and the Negro Leagues help set the time and place. Artist E.B. Lewis’ grainy, sen­si­tive water­col­or paint­ings make this sto­ry of break­ing stereo­types irre­sistible. Like the engag­ing nar­ra­tive, the paint­ings leave a lot of space for the read­er to imag­ine the details. Lewis’ free brush strokes are rich and airy at the same time and the images of peo­ple are warm­ly rep­re­sent­ed. There’s a charm­ing, smil­ing grand­pa wear­ing his yarmulke, full of hope that his grand­son, Abe, will be a great vio­lin­ist. Grandpa’s oth­er expec­ta­tion is that Willy, the African- Amer­i­can boy from across the alley will be a future base­ball play­er in the Negro Leagues. Grand­pa turns out to be very wrong, and as stereo­types are bro­ken, he accepts real­i­ty with grace. 

The paint­ings roman­ti­cize the tree lined blocks of Brook­lyn brown­stones fifty sum­mers ago, when kids played stick­ball in the street, and neigh­bors like Willy and Abe could walk to Tem­ple, or to the cor­ner lot to play base­ball. This book is a gem, high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for sec­u­lar and Jew­ish schools and all pub­lic libraries. It is an excel­lent exam­ple of both an inter­gen­er­a­tional and a mul­ti­cul­tur­al pic­ture book at its best.

Read­ing Guide

» Down­load the Across the Alley Read­ing Guide from PJ Library.

Nao­mi Morse man­aged a pub­lic library children’s room in Mont­gomery Coun­ty, Mary­land for many years, and then worked as head librar­i­an at the Charles E. Smith Jew­ish Day School Low­er School in Rockville, Mary­land. She has served on AJL’s Syd­ney Tay­lor Com­mit­tee, and last year (2008) was a mem­ber of ALA’s Calde­cott Com­mit­tee. She is an inde­pen­dent book reviewer.

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