Don’t you just love when you can read a book with small children and they can learn an important lesson, and then you can read the same book with children more than a handful of years older, and they find powerful messages as well. The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson is one of these multi-aged gems. If you haven’t read The Other Side, you need to know about it! It’s beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated, with a timeless message of acceptance and friendship.
Yes, an underlying context of race relations, discrimination, and segregation weaves its way through The Other Side, but on a more surface level, this is a gentle story of overcoming fears, differences, and kindness. Woodson addresses the historical context simply enough that young children can access the larger message without deep historical understanding. For older children, The Other Side is a wonderful conversation starter about race, segregation, where we’ve been, and where we still may need to work.
And, E. B. Lewis’s watercolor paintings are just breathtaking. They’re realistic, they’re detailed, and they open our hearts to the emotions of the two main characters, Clover (the narrator) and Annie. Lewis has even managed to capture changes in body language and the insights those give us to the changes in the characters over the course of the story.
One of my favorite things about this book is that even though Clover’s mother told her that nothing can change “because that’s the way things have always been,” Clover and Annie find the courage to change things anyway. In a time when we’re celebrating actions and activism from young people to make positive change in the world, Woodson’s almost 20-year-old story may still inspire youth today.
Woodson wraps up her story with, “Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.” And what a metaphor! At times in history, physical barriers kept diverse communities apart. At other times, beliefs and mindsets about others and their differences kept people apart. It takes courage to knock down both types of barriers, and heroes are often found in unexpected places.
What books are you loving that inspire children of multiple ages to make a difference in their worlds?