Great Illustrated Books

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

By Peter Sis

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2007
Pages : 56
Suggested Ages: 9 and Up
ISBN: 9780374347017

Award-winning children's book author and illustrator Peter Sís grew up in Prague, Czechoslovakia after World War II, and came to the U.S. in the 1970s. This remarkable autobiographical picture book, told in the third person, is about the making of an artist in a place where creativity was discouraged, free thought was considered dangerous and subversive, and the Soviet Union controlled the government and its citizens. The text at the bottom of each the page is a simply told description of an unnamed boy's passion for art as he grows up. On the margins of the paneled illustrations are captions that list the many restrictions, ordered by the Czech government, that governed his life. Sís's tiny crosshatched pen and inks start out mostly monochromatic, with touches of red flags and neckerchiefs to show the uniformity imposed on people. From drawing what he was told in school and not questioning the status quo, his life was transformed. The catalyst? The Beatles. Suddenly everyone wanted to be a rock star and grow long hair. Prague Spring of 1968 promised freedom, but then came the Russian tanks. Interspersed in the narrative are double-pages of chronological excerpts from Sís's own journals, from 1954-1968; the Introduction and Afterword fill in still more details. For explaining the difference between a democratic society and a dictatorship, Sís's book is extraordinary. Google the following words—YouTube Peter Sis The Wall—and watch the remarkable little movie Sís made about the book. Compare and contrast the differences of growing up in Prague back then and America now. Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine and Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jiang are about growing up at in the same era in another totalitarian society, China, during its repressive Cultural Revolution.

Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Compestine, Ying Chang. Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party: A Novel. Henry Holt, 2007

Jiang, Ji Li. Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution. HarperCollins, 1997. ISBN-13: 978-0060275853

S�_s, Peter. Madlenka's Dog. Farrar, 2002. ISBN-13: 978-0374346997

S�_s, Peter. Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei. Farrar, 1996. ISBN-13: 978-0374470272

S�_s, Peter. Tibet: Through the Red Box. Farrar, 1998. ISBN-13: 978-0374375522

S�_s, Peter. The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker. Farrar, 2003. ISBN-13: 978-0374456283

Critics have said

Though the term picture book for older readers has been bandied about quite a bit, this memorable title is a true example.
Jennifer Mattson, Booklist

As in all of S's's works, much is going on here, and readers will want to read it through, and then pore over the illustrations. A masterpiece for readers young and old.
Kirkus Reviews