Willie and Abe are neighbors, but they don’t play together. Abe is Jewish and Willie is black.
This thought provoking book Across the Alley is written by Richard Michelson and has beautiful, bright, realistic illustrations by E. B. Lewis.
It answers the question? Why don’t they play together?
Abe’s grandfather thinks Abe should practice the violin all the time. Willie’s father wants him to be a professional ball player. Willie’s father had played baseball for the Negros Leagues and has high hopes for his son to follow in his footsteps and have a career in baseball.
Although Willie and Abe don’t speak to each other during the day they have become friends across the alley sharing their talents through their bedroom windows. Willie is utterly fascinated with Abe’s violin and Abe really, really wants to play baseball.
Secretly, they share their talents. Abe teaches Willie how to play the violin, and Willis show Abe how to hold a baseball for pitching. As it turns out Willie is a natural for violin and Abe also learns quickly and shows talent.
The father and grandfather do not know that they have been sharing their talents across the alley in the evening. However, one evening Abe’s grandfather discovers that the beautiful violin music he has been listening to is being played by Willie, not his grandson, Abe. The music is so beautiful and it touches the grandfather so much he invites young Willie to perform at the temple.
Grandfather talks to Willie’s dad about their boys. Later as Abe’s grandfather, Willie’s father and Willie and Abe walk down the street to the temple they are stared at by the people they pass. Willie plays the violin beautifully, and later in the day Abe plays triumphantly in his first baseball game.
As it turns out the boy’s talents aren’t quite what their families predicted, yet they find out that their families will be encouraging them in their dreams. The best consequence is that now the boys can be friends in the daytime, not just at night “across the alley”.
This book is beautifully written and while it is only 32 pages it provides the important message of acceptance, family, friendship, individuality, respecting others differences, talents, having a sense of accomplishment and understanding diversity.
This story is a great lead in to a discussion on “What is prejudice?”
You could also ask your child “Is there something you would like to learn to do really well?” “Will it take a lot of practice?” and “How can you get started?” Right after reading this story you may find that your child will open up more about their secret wishes.
Across the Alley
Learn more about the Negro League with these postcards.
Black Ball: The Negro Baseball Leagues: A Book of Postcards
Note: This book is from my library.