The wall in the middle of the book by Jon Agee

cover image

Scholastic, 2019. ISBN 9781760663490.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Walls, Barriers, Prejudice, Isolationism. A solid brick wall appears in the centre of each double page. A child in armour appears with a ladder, and tells the reader that his side of the book is safe because the wall is there to protect him from whatever is on the other side. The other side has a range of large animals: a rhinoceros, tiger and baboon, all interested to see over the wall. But a small mouse happens along and scares them away. On the safe side, water appears to be rising rather rapidly, causing the boy to climb the ladder even higher, while on the other side the animals are replaced by an ogre. The boy tells us that the ogre is the scariest thing on the other side, but when the water keeps rising and he is about to drown, or perhaps be eaten by the lurking crocodile, the ogre leans over the wall and plucks him to safety.
The boy is frightened when he realises that he is on the other side of the wall. He tells the ogre that he is frightened that he will be eaten, but the ogre assures him that this will not happen and shows him around. All his fears vanish as he is befriended by the animals and plays with them.
Readers will laugh out loud at the contrast of what is happening on each side of the wall, especially when the 'safe' side becomes anything but safe as the little fish are swallowed by a bigger fish then a much larger fish as the water rises.
Readers will understand the theme of the book, that walls do not make us safe, and discuss the way walls are used to give an impression of safety in various situations. And unfortunately there are a lot of examples around the world of wall building to draw upon.
This is a laugh out loud look at the aim of keeping safe through building walls, where building bridges would be more appropriate.
The watercolour and pencil illustrations are just wonderful, the drawing of the wall down the centre of each page underlining the difference between each side and causing much hilarity when the situation is reversed.
Fran Knight