The Wall: How compassion and curiosity can help children overcome fear of the unknown

Published on: 27 October 2021

The spread of misinformation and fake news can create a lot of fear and uncertainty - especially in children. The Wall author Jessie James argues that we can tackle this by encouraging children to grow up celebrating difference and inclusivity.

What inspired you to create your book The Wall?

I’m tired of the amount of segregation in our world and lack of unity. Media sensationalism and fake news depicted to us within our social media bubbles create a sense of fear of the other and of anyone different.

"I wanted to write something for young children that demonstrates the beauty of the other and the different and how inclusivity enriches our world and our lives."
Please tell us what it’s about.

It’s about a little boy called Tom who dreams of being an explorer. His passion for seeing more of the beautiful world around him is eroded as hearsay and gossip lead to a growing fear of life outside what he knows. The media and adults talk about the monsters of the outside world and pretty soon Tom is too afraid to become an explorer anymore. The adults build a great wall around their home to keep the monsters out forever.

One day a paper aeroplane from over the wall lands at Tom’s feet. It says ‘Hello’. Tom is inspired to scale the wall and is blown away by the beauty of the world beyond. There is a little girl waving up at him too but no monsters at all. The little girl comes into the world within the wall and tells everyone about the people and creatures outside of it.

I wanted the palette of this book to start colourful and bold to represent the beauty of the world and then this to become faded and monochrome as the experiences and cultures outside of the wall become unknown to the people hiding behind it. Colour floods back into the palette of the book when the girl appears. The people know what they must do: they tear down the wall, and life, colour and joy come back into their world as all different peoples from many different places come together, and the children who grew up within the wall finally go out into the world and experience everything it has to offer.

"As adults it’s our duty to ensure that the content that surrounds them enables them to explore the unknown from a place of knowledge, openness and joy."
How do you approach that kind of subject in a children’s book, written in an accessible way for parents?

I’m no expert! But I try to think about a child’s perception of the world around them and make the content relatable to them and their everyday lives and imaginations. Children absorb everything around them and as adults it’s our duty to ensure that the content that surrounds them enables them to explore the unknown from a place of knowledge, openness and joy, and not one of fear or misinformation.

Can you give us some tips about how to have conversations with younger children about inclusivity and intolerance?

I’m not a parent, so my experience with talking to little ones about these issues is limited - but I think it’s important to ask them questions and work out what their perceptions are and then gently explore with them why they might think or feel certain things, and offer up alternative perspectives. I think asking them to consider how they might feel in another person’s shoes can be a great place to start.

What are some of your favourite picture books that deal with serious topics for young children?

I adore Leaves by Stephen Hogtun. If you are looking for a breath-taking and joyous book to provide a platform for conversations about loss or grief with little ones, this is the book for you.

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