We are hearing a lot of talk recently about building walls and borders to protect ‘us’ from ‘them’. There seems to be a preoccupation on exclusion and barriers and othering.
Jon Agee encourages us to think about the dangers inherent in cutting ourselves off. He uses the gutter of the book very cleverly by putting his wall right there ‘in the middle of the book’. We can see what is happening on either side. However, because the wall goes right to the top of the frame, the characters on either side cannot see each other. On the very first opening, we see that one brick has fallen out of the left-hand side of the wall and lies on the ground. It would be worth reading the book through and then going back to this image and discussing it with children. What might it imply?
On that left-hand side – the verso – lives the narrator of the story, a little knight who thinks the wall is a good thing because he knows that on the other side – the recto – there are dangers. ‘This side of the book is safe’ says the knight. He does not appear to notice the rising floodwaters lapping at his feet as he tells us that ‘The other side of the book is not’. As the water rises, he warns us about the terrible ogre who lives over there. He is endearingly fixed in his views, but is he a reliable narrator?
Agee very subtly invites us to examine our assumptions about the other. He hints that ignorance breeds fear, and fear breeds irrationality. The illustrations are simply executed with a muted palette and very clever use of white space. There are layers and layers of meaning here to be explored with children. This book should be in every classroom from kindergarten to college because it is never too soon, or too late, to start questioning ‘certainties’ about ourselves, and issues of divisions in society. As Amnesty International says, this is ‘a book that celebrates freedom of movement and thought’. From a critical literacy perspective, I cannot recommend it highly enough. And, like all of Agee’s work, it is also quite funny.
This title previously featured in our Year 2 Reading Gladiators collection.
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