32 years ago November 9, two days ago, the Berlin Wall in what was then East Germany started coming down. Of course, that syntax suggests the wall had the agency in its fall, but really, it was the people who took it down, some chipping off a chunk of rock at a time, others with a little mechanical help pulling down entire concrete slabs. My family, which had lived in then-West Germany for four years, was back in the States when reform and revolution swept down various types of walls in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, but I still remember watching the celebratory scenes on television, people scaling, chanting, singing, dancing, crossing, hugging.
That was part of the inspiration for various ideas that congealed into what became my debut picture book, The Wall and the Wild, with Katie Rewse. You can read more about the Berlin Wall and that inspiration in an older blog post. (Note: I also loved exploring the nearby castle walls and all the mysteries and history they held as well as the many hidden nooks in the walls of our apartment building!)
The anniversary two days ago reminded me that I haven't yet posted about some other wall-related picture books, some of which I read before writing my story but most of which I found later or came out even as my own was in production. Time to change that. I'm sure there are some I'm missing but these are some fabulous books about walls that Ana, the main character from our book, would appreciate ... and I think some of you might enjoy.
Recent (Past Five Years) Titles
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee
We discovered this charming and clever book, one of our recent favorites, after my manuscript had been sent out ... and fell in love with it. Apparently, as you'll see, a few other authors had walls on the brain in recent years. This one features some curious critters and a heroic knight who learns that the things one doesn't know but fears might prove to be quite different.
Sometimes a Wall by Dianne White and Barroux
This is another wonderful book we found after mine was in production. It's delightful exploration of the many potential faces of walls ... and the people who build, add to, cross, embellish and otherwise change them.
The Wall by Jessie James and Catalina Echeverri
I've been waiting for this book about a young explorer who dares to look over a wall to come out. I discovered it was releasing not long after our book and can't wait to see it ...
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell and Rafael López
My children and I fell in love with this book about the power of one child + art to revolutionize a community. Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in the East Village of San Diego, the stunning illustrations and joyful narrative reveal another way to look at and transform the walls around us.
Hey, Wall: A Story of Art and Community by Susan Verde and John Parra
Susan Verde never disappoints, and this story, like the one above, tells a similar tale of how walls don't have to divide but can unite, especially with a little vision and collaboration.
A Sky Without Lines by Krystia Basil and Laura Borràs
But some walls do divide. This story, about a contemporary wall still under construction, challenges the reader to explore why and to what effect(s).
From My Window by Otávio Júnior, Vanina Starkoff and Beatriz C. Dias
I have this book on reserve and can't wait to jump into its colorful pages. Walls, as I've noted, serve myriad purposes, and many come with portals to let people move between and see through them. What do children in a place of many closely packed walls find beyond theirs?
Usha and the Stolen Sun by Bree Galbraith and Josée Bisaillon
I stumbled on this title a few months ago, drawn by the cover and the promise of what Usha might find. It didn't disappoint. Some things are universal ...
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey and Dow Phumiruk
This fantastic picture book biography tells the story of artist and architect Maya Lin and the remarkable memorial wall that she constructed ... You can find another book about that wall and its historical context a little farther down. Learn how her vision grew a different sort of wall, one that remembers.
Walls by Brad Holdgrafer and Jay Cover
This concept picture book explores myriad types of walls in a simplistic fashion. It's more of a conversation starter to get readers thinking and talking about the purposes behind walls, some good, some more challenging.
The Wall: A Timeless Tale by Giancarlo Macrì, Carolina Zanotti, Elisa Vallarino and Mauro Sacco
I haven't read this one yet. Actually, I stumbled on it while writing up this post and have read some varying reviews. A king, rather like Ana, has some definite ideas about what his side of the wall should look like and takes steps to make it that way, but it appears he also learns something unexpected. I have it on reserve and will report back!
Other Post-2000 Titles
The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
A favorite of ours, along with many of Gaiman's stories, this darkly fantastic picture book reminds us that sometimes we should listen ... and yay! for another strong, clever female heroine!
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís
The Berlin Wall wasn't the only barrier erected by the Cold War ... the metaphorical Iron Curtain also descended across many parts of Europe. Sís, in his characteristic style of depth and detail, brings to life his own experiences behind that boundary as well as the efforts around him to bring it to an end.
Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas
I'm going to let this light-hearted story speak for itself ... How about a video read-aloud?
How about three nonfiction picture books that take a closer look at the legacy of the Berlin Wall and the origins and building of the Great Wall of China? Two other nonfiction titles aren't picture books but they contain wonderful illustrations and are stock-full of information on two of the walls explored in other titles (in the same vein as the Who's Who? books that have become so popular).
The Berlin Wall Today by Michael Cramer and Eva C. Schweitzer
You Wouldn't Want to Work on the Great Wall of China!: Defenses You'd Rather Not Build by Jacqueline Morley, David Salariya and David Antram
The Emperor Who Built The Great Wall by Jillian Lin and Shi Meng
What Was the Berlin Wall? by Nico Medina
Where Is the Great Wall? by Patricia Brennan Demuth
Slightly Older and Classic Titles
The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss
This fabulously quirky rhyming fable has echoes of the Cold War and has long been a favorite of mine for that reason. I used to read it to my students and challenge them to write their own wall-inspired stories or poems. How do you butter your bread? What would do to defend "the right way"?
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and Michael J. Smollin
Who doesn't adore lovable, furry old Grover? We've turned these pages (against Grover's emphatically expressed wishes) sooooo many times. It's not about one wall per se but it is about boundaries and the feared expectations they're erected to defend against. Grover reminds us that, sometimes, our fears prove unfounded ... and there's something wonderful waiting for us instead.
The Wall by Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler
This one might not be as familiar as the above two titles. Written in 1992, just three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, by the indomitable children's author Eve Bunting, it tells the story of a different sort of wall, the Vietnam Memorial. The Vietnam War, like the Berlin Wall, was a byproduct of the Cold War and the powers invested in it, one that cost more than 58,000 American soldiers' lives and more than a million Vietnamese and others. Rather than dividing, this wall brings people together, to remember.
Berlin Wall: A Big Story for Little Historians by Sarah Davies
Coming in December 2021, this one takes a closer look at the aforementioned Berlin Wall. I hope to check it out soon and report back!
Coming in March 2022, this book explores the history and structure of the Great Wall and promises fun interactive features for readers, including some cutaways of important buildings. I'll be checking it out, too!
In the meantime, you might check out one more book, Change Sings: A Children's Anthem, by youth poet laureate and inaugural bard Amanda Gorman ... What roles do walls play in these pages?