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Peeking out through a die-cut window on the jacket, Madlenka invites the reader to enter her world. And what a world it is! On the surface, it looks like an ordinary city block, but as we meet Madlenka's neighbors -- the French baker, the Indian news vendor, the Italian ice-cream man, the Latin American grocer, a retired opera singer from Germany, an African American school friend, and the Asian shopkeeper -- and look through die-cut windows to the images and memories they have carried from old country to new, we...
Peeking out through a die-cut window on the jacket, Madlenka invites the reader to enter her world. And what a world it is! On the surface, it looks like an ordinary city block, but as we meet Madlenka's neighbors -- the French baker, the Indian news vendor, the Italian ice-cream man, the Latin American grocer, a retired opera singer from Germany, an African American school friend, and the Asian shopkeeper -- and look through die-cut windows to the images and memories they have carried from old country to new, we can see that Madlenka's block is as richly varied as its inhabitants. And why is Madlenka going around the block, jumping for joy? Her tooth is loose, and she wants everyone to know!
Peter Sís was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, and studied painting and filmmaking at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague and at the Royal College of Art in London. His many books include two Caldecott Honor winners: Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei and Tibet Through the Red Box. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.
Madlenka, whose New York City neighbors include the French baker, the Indian news vendor, the Italian ice-cream man, the South American grocer, and the Chinese shopkeeper, goes around the block to show her friends her loose tooth and finds that it is like taking a trip around the world.
Barnes & Noble.com: When you were a child, did you always know you'd be an artist of some sort when you grew up? How did you get your start illustrating kids' books?
Peter Sis: My parents tell me I always wanted to be an artist, but I have my doubts. I always liked to draw...that I know. I first started to illustrate kids' books when my father would give me stories to illustrate (with a deadline) and then as a part of my art school education. These experiences proved handy when I came to New York and had to pay my rent.
B&N.com: What was it like growing up in Prague?
PS: Growing up in Prague was fun. At least that's how I remember it now. (I am sure I had some bad moments.) I wasn't really aware that Prague was the capitol of Czechoslovakia -- a small country in the heart of Europe. Thanks to my family I had a fun childhood.
B&N.com: As a native of another country, have you ever had difficulty writing for American children? How do you come up with the ideas for your books?
PS: I never had difficulty creating my books. The question is do American kids have difficulty understanding my books? All my books prior to 1992 were based on my childhood and feelings of leaving home. Rainbow Rhino, the whale in An Ocean World, Columbus in Follow the Dream, A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North, even Starry Messenger and The Three Golden Keys were about me. Waving, Going Up, and An Ocean World were about my observations of my new "home." I was very lucky that my publishers and, even more so, American kids understood. Since 1992, I've been inspired by my own children. Madlenka, Fire Truck, Ship Ahoy!, Dinosaur!, Trucks Trucks Trucks, -- all those books are their experiences. Tibet: Through the Red Box is an exception. It is a tribute to my father, who became seriously ill.
B&N.com: Your artwork is very intricate and sophisticated -- as are many of your stories. Why do you think your books are so appealing to kids?
PS: You might call my artwork sophisticated. Thank you. You might also call it time-consuming. There are various reasons why I work the way I do. I am still trying to prove myself (in my new country). Also, as a little boy, and often bedridden, I would appreciate all the details in the books I was looking at. If my writing is complex and intricate it is because my thinking is. My desire is to come up with the simplest and clearest wordless book.
I think I am lucky my books are appealing to kids. When my children started to look at the world around them, I was amazed, as every parent is. I have been trying to follow them ever since (we lived across the street from a fire station and my son, Matej, became a fire truck. He played ship on our old couch and bathed with his dinosaurs).
B&N.com: Tell me about Madlenka. How did you come up with the story? Is Madlenka's neighborhood like your own neighborhood?
PS: Madlenka took some time to evolve. I realized early that our house and the block we live on is home to my daughter (while not quite to me) and that different people on the block know and love her (and give her little treats), and that all these people, New York being New York, are from all over the world.
This is so completely different from my own childhood. I wanted to celebrate this wonderful "universe." Unknowingly at the time, I also created a historical book. Not only is one of the streets on Madlenka's block Mulberry Street (known from Dr. Seuss) but thanks to the New York.com boom and gentrification, many of the stores in the book have closed and become trendy boutiques.
B&N.com: What's next for Peter Sis? Tell me about the books you're working on now, and what we can expect to see from you soon.
PS: What is next? Matej is learning about numbers and his first tooth just fell out (it wiggled in New York, on the cross-Atlantic flight, in Prague, and fell out in Paris!). He also loves knights. Madeleine is in Paris right now... (I guess not such an original idea). She wants a dog, and pretends she has one. She loves the Beatles' songs, flowers, and swimming...I am reading about Charles Darwin...surely plenty of ideas to choose from.