What Is a Wall, After All? Or, books for boys who aren’t into stories

I was honoured with the opportunity to read fils aîné his bedtime story this evening – normally that’s very much Daddy’s terrain. The book he chose was one I hadn’t previously read myself and not, strictly speaking, a story…

What Is a Wall, After All?

What Is a Wall, After All? by Judy Allen (first published in 1993, this edition 2010) is part of Walker Books’ Read and Discover series:

“designed to encourage children to learn about the world as they learn to read”.

He’s had a set of these books for a while now, and they cover all kinds of subjects in a similarly light-hearted but informative style.

Unusually for a non-fiction book, this one is written in verse. Although that could very easily be annoying, it actually helps keep both reader and listener engaged, as do the cartoon-style illustrations by Alan Baron. It features an array of characters looking at and commenting on the events and pictures, and we soon developed a system whereby I read the main text while FA read the captions and speech bubbles (more of a challenge than you might imagine when they include such things as “half-round coping bricks”, “throughstones” and “limestone sneck”! Who needs made up words in a phonics test?). This then led on to discussions of the purposes of the many walls, where the tunnels were going, why there was a dinosaur hiding, how a mountaineer was going to have lunch when hanging off an icy rock face and what dams are for. There is, incidentally, information on some of this stuff at the back of the book, although no explanation of the dinosaur. This series also features indexes and prominent biographies of the author and illustrator, helping children to become familiar with the basic features of reference books.

The book was first published in 1993, and was inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Judy Allen explains on her website that:

The idea for What Is A Wall, After All? came to me a long time ago, when the Berlin Wall was being demolished. It was so good to see that wall come down, but so terrible when the walls of people’s homes are demolished, by earthquakes or bombs or anything else – and I started to think about how many different kinds of wall there are, and how many different uses walls have.

Among the varieties she covers are house walls, castle walls, prison walls, the walls of baked bean tins and crater walls. There are details on building materials: glass, bricks, rubber (bouncy castles, before you ask), stone…  Some walls are friendly, some are not.  Some things, such as ovens, have walls for keeping hot. Others, like igloos, have walls that need to stay cold. Some are to keep people in; some are to keep invaders out. There’s a “Did You Know?” section too, and assuming that he’s inherited his full share of family pedantic tendencies, FA will soon be able to inform anyone who tells him otherwise that you can’t actually see the Great Wall of China from the moon at all.

There are 9 other titles in the series. Fly Traps! Plants that bite back by Martin Jenkins is his favourite by far, and Chameleons Are Cool by the same author goes down well too. But seriously, who’d have thought an educational book on walls could be so much fun?

I know there are lots of people who find it hard to get their sons, grandsons, nephews etc into books, but this is a series that could really help.

Fly Traps! Plants that bite back Chameleons Are Cool

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About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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