The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER

 

“I was born at the beginning of it all, on the Red side—the Communist side—of the Iron Curtain.” Through annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes, Peter Sís shows what life was like for a child who loved to draw, proudly wore the red scarf of a Young Pioneer, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, and believed whatever he was told to believe. But adolescence brought questions. Cracks began to appear in the Iron Curtain, and news from the West slowly filtered...

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Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER

 

“I was born at the beginning of it all, on the Red side—the Communist side—of the Iron Curtain.” Through annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes, Peter Sís shows what life was like for a child who loved to draw, proudly wore the red scarf of a Young Pioneer, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, and believed whatever he was told to believe. But adolescence brought questions. Cracks began to appear in the Iron Curtain, and news from the West slowly filtered into the country. Sís learned about beat poetry, rock ’n’ roll, blue jeans, and Coca-Cola. He let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, and joined a rock band. Then came the Prague Spring of 1968, and for a teenager who wanted to see the world and meet the Beatles, this was a magical time. It was short-lived, however, brought to a sudden and brutal end by the Soviet-led invasion. But this brief flowering had provided a glimpse of new possibilities—creativity could be discouraged but not easily killed.

 

By joining memory and history, Sís takes us on his extraordinary journey: from infant with paintbrush in hand to young man borne aloft by the wings of his art.

 

The Wall is a 2007 New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year, a 2008 Caldecott Honor Book, a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year, the winner of the 2008 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, and a nominee for the 2008 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids.

Winner of the 2008 Robert F. Sibert Award

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Peter Sís has already won the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year award six times, but The Wall might be his most riveting -- and personal -- book yet. With words and unforgettable pictures, he renders the experience of growing up in postwar, Communist-dominated Czechoslovakia. Like the omnipresent statues of Stalin, oppressive authority and regimentation loom everywhere. But eventually the Iron Curtain wears thin, allowing Sís to at least sample the exotic pleasures of Western literature, rock music, and pop culture. With the "Prague Spring" of 1968 comes the promise of new freedoms, but those short-lived hopes are crushed in the streets of the Czech capital by Soviet tanks. Fortunately, dreams cannot be annihilated so easily.
From the Publisher
"The ecstatic energy and big-spirited inventiveness of the artist’s drawings make the once all but unimaginable realization of that dream visible for all to see."

—The New York Times Book Review

“Sís’ most ambitious and personal book.” USA TODAY

“A sophisticated and sobering picture book exposé.”—The San Francisco Chronicle

“The Wall makes for irresistible reading.”—Washington Post Book World

“Mr. Sís's account belongs as much in the living room as it does in the nursery.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Peter Sís [is a] master of the not-necessarily-for-children picture book.” The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Peter Sís's The Wall... may be his finest book to date - no small feat. "The Boston Globe

"Glorious artwork." —Elle

"Will both engross and haunt his audience.” —Starred, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“Complex, multifaceted, rich in detail . . . [Sís’s] concluding visions of freedom are both poignant and exhilarating.”—Starred, School Library Journal

"A masterpiece for readers young and old."—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

"Younger readers have not yet had a graphic memoir with the power of Maus or Persepolis to call their own, but they do now."—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“The deployment of media choices and color throughout the book is both expert and telling: bold, stark black marker for an invading Soviet tank, dreamy blue crayon for the night the Beach Boys played Prague . . . a comprehensive portrait of an era, an artist, and the persistence of the latter in the face of the former.” —Starred, The Horn Book

“A powerful combination of graphic novel and picture book . . . Terrific design dramatizes the conflict between conformity and creative freedom.” —Starred, Booklist

"Simply and effectively illustrates the history of Czechoslovakia's struggle with totalitarianism and evokes the dreams of his repressed people."—VOYA

“This stunning book is a MUST for anybody who is curious to learn about the world we live in!” —Milos Forman, Oscar winning-director of Amadeus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

“Peter Sís’s book is most of all about the will to live one’s life in freedom and should be required reading for all those who take their freedom for granted.” —Václav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic

“Peter Sís, who has entranced children and adults with his magical stories and drawings, has taken his talent to a new level. Peter, born to dream and draw, is now also teaching the tragic history of his native Czechoslovakia under communism in this beautiful, poignant, and important work for those of all ages.” —Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State

“This extraordinary achievement is a powerful reminder of the hard-won freedoms that drew so many to this country's shores.” Shelf Awareness

Leonard S. Marcus
The story unfolds in a word-and-picture montage consisting of a spare, fable-like narrative, introductory and closing notes, a historical timeline, diary excerpts, childhood drawings, family photos and, at the center of it all, a sequence of playful but intense pen-line drawings, many of them arrayed in storyboard panels…The Wall is a brave book for acknowledging, as Sis writes, "how easy it is to brainwash a child," and for taking on a serious subject at a time when feel-good children's books are widely assumed to be what sells. It is also a challenging book, and with its blizzard of fleeting references to everything from the Hungarian uprising to the Beach Boys, 8- and 9-year-olds will most likely need a parent or other handy font of knowledge to help them make their way to the end.
—The New York Times
Karen MacPherson
Part memoir, part history and part graphic novel, The Wall makes irresistible reading. Sis, one of the few children's authors to win a MacArthur "genius" Fellowship, combines a well-paced text, detailed line drawings, family photographs and snippets from his childhood journals and early artwork to produce a book that offers young readers a personalized glimpse into history.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Born out of a question posed to Sís (Play, Mozart, Play!) by his children ("Are you a settler, Dad?"), the author pairs his remarkable artistry with journal entries, historical context and period photography to create a powerful account of his childhood in Cold War-era Prague. Dense, finely crosshatched black-and-white drawings of parades and red-flagged houses bear stark captions: "Public displays of loyalty-compulsory. Children are encouraged to report on their families and fellow students. Parents learn to keep their opinions to themselves." Text along the bottom margin reveals young Sís's own experience: "He didn't question what he was being told. Then he found out there were things he wasn't told." The secret police, with tidy suits and pig faces, intrude into every drawing, watching and listening. As Sís grows to manhood, Eastern Europe discovers the Beatles, and the "Prague Spring of 1968" promises liberation and freedom. Instead, Soviet tanks roll in, returning the city to its previous restrictive climate. Sís rebels when possible, and in the book's final spreads, depicts himself in a bicycle, born aloft by wings made from his artwork, flying toward America and freedom, as the Berlin Wall crumbles below. Although some of Sís's other books have their source in his family's history, this one gives the adage "write what you know" biting significance. Younger readers have not yet had a graphic memoir with the power of Mausor Persepolisto call their own, but they do now. Ages 8-up. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature
Sís details in words and graphic narrative his growth and development as an artist amid the drama of life in Czechoslovakia behind the Wall. Young Peter keeps on drawing as the constraints of Communism close in. Gradually he realizes that there are things he is not being told. “Bits and pieces of news” slip in. The Prague Spring of 1968 arrives in a riot of color after the previous restricted palette of black lines with touches of red. It is visualized in a double-page extravaganza of images like the Beatles' Yellow Submarine and the Harlem Globetrotters. But then the Russian tanks arrive; his dreams must be repressed. “Things got worse…” Finally, of course, the Wall falls. An “Afterword” covers Sís's move to America. His visuals vary in size, depending on the emotional impact desired. Everywhere are government spies with pig faces. While the brief text is often only captions, low key, or explanatory, the drawings deliver the gut feelings. Several pages from his journals record events while surrounded with postage-stamp reproductions of his drawings, posters, and photographs. The final series of double pages follows his dream-like chase on a bicycle over the Wall as it is being destroyed. The paper jacket presents the author as a very young child symbolically inside a red star-shaped wall, on corrugated cardboard tied with string; the cover has only a large red star on a light brown background. The endpapers present a world map, with Communist countries in red circling in on Czechoslovakia and Prague and home. The tale is both personal and powerful. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Kirkus Reviews
S's has loved to draw for as long as he can remember, and this work tells the parallel stories of his early years drawing and the rise and fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. At home, he could draw what he wanted, but at school he drew what he was told, his only freedom being to dream and hope. A concise introduction fleshes out the history of the time, leaving the rest of the volume for a potent mix of narration, fanciful illustrations, maps and double-page spreads for journal entries. Made palpable is the frustration of an artist in a constrictive society, especially when "Bits and pieces of news from the West begin to slip through the Iron Curtain"-news of the Beatles, Elvis, Allen Ginsberg and the Harlem Globetrotters, depicted in full color to contrast with the grey darkness of the Eastern Bloc. 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. (afterword) (Nonfiction. 8+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374347017
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 8/21/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 56
  • Sales rank: 161,656
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: AD760L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.29 (w) x 12.17 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

PETER SÍS, a MacArthur Fellow and internationally renowned artist, received Caldecott Honors for Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei and Tibet Through the Red Box. He has lived in and around New York City since 1984.

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Read an Excerpt

From The Wall

"When my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion, and lies. I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it's hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life— before America—for them." —P.S.

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 12, 2011

    A Look Into the Dark Side of the Iron Curtain

    This book is like a simplified autobiography of author and illustrator Peter Sís. With sparing words, detailed pictures, and informative captions, he creates a memoir of his days growing up in Communist Eastern Europe. Sís's use of black, white, and a little bit of red to depict one ideology and use of various colors to depict another ideology is a clever way to distinguish the two opposite sets of beliefs. Knowing the subject matter of his illustrations, this technique for symbolism also seems to be the most fitting way to portray such different thought processes. However, the factor that makes Sís's story so much more real to readers is the integration of his own personal journal entries that he wrote during that time.

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  • Posted December 30, 2010

    Helps

    This book takes place behind the iron curtain, in Czechoslovakia. It helped me understand the Soviet Takeover and what goes on behind the iron curtain.

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  • Posted November 24, 2010

    Czech this out!

    This was definitely an interesting way to learn a little bit about history and how it effects us today. The writing and illustrations are wonderfully colorful even though most are in black and white. This book is appropriate for children ages eight and up because it's a more colorful way of learning history, rather than reading it all in one large textbook. It's an insightful way to witness the aspects of history from a first person point of view and primary source. You'll get the full affect of history from someone who truly witnessed it first-hand! What better way to get your kids to grasp socialism than with a fun book who shows the true stories of what really happened? Although the truth in this book is great, I was more interested in how rock 'n roll helped to put a crack in the wall. But the best point of this story is how one boy's dreams were enough to influence him and give him the ambition to strive for freedom and the Americas. This is a great story to have in any library!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2009

    Cold War Remembered

    Author Peter Sis does an excellent job describing his childhood during the Russian occupation of Prague. He tells his story through words, diary entries and his own illustrations. The simplistic pictures and heartfelt memories take the reader on a journey of censorship, Communism, Western influence and finally liberation. This story would work particularly well as a way to discuss with older children some of the basic freedoms that we in America take for granted.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2008

    A reviewer

    This book is absolutely awesome because, for the first time, it gives patriotic American parents a way to open their children's eyes to conditions otherwise unfathomable. How does one enable their child to understand what they can not comprehend for only having known America and it's system of liberty? The illustrations teach simply yet profoundly, how it FEELS to live under governmental oppression among a self-seeking and disloyal citizenry. (Such IS and ever will be the condition of mankind under communism and socialism.) You can FEEL the imagery of this true story - you can FEEL his heart breaking, questioning, wondering, suffocating. The witness he bears in pictures is so powerful! My educational background in German and Russian languages centered much of my study in the history of these peoples. I have been looking, for years, for a way to teach my children how terrible that system was - I walked the streets of East Berlin after the Wall fell and was appalled - I wanted some way to teach them not to take their freedoms for granted, but to fiercely cling to their liberties. There are other good children's book but THIS book, in particular, is a wonderful way to introduce your children to the value of Bill of Rights, the Consitution and the Declaration of Independence. WHY they are worth living and dying for? This is why! As a religious conservative, I am troubled by current political and societal trends in our country... new progressive packaging for old pinko ideas. I do not believe I am the only parent in the US who recognizes the disturbing trend public sentiment is taking toward willing the rise of socialism here. I, for one, shall use this book as a tool to teach my children how to recognize creeping evil and what is slowly beginning to happen here, in our very own land... and why they must be morally courageous in fighting it, as hard as they can and as long as they can... starting with for whom they choose to vote. Call it the children's version of Jonah Goldberg's 'Liberal Fascism'. It is a word of warning by setting forth the pattern of all the baby steps it takes to see a nation fall.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2007

    A children's book for adults

    The Wall is a masterpiece. While it is in the form of a children's picture book, it is really a fascinating memoir about life under communism in Prague and the liberation of the spirit through art and music. This is the type of uplifting story that can be shared and enjoyed by a parent with a son or daughter. Sis's line drawings are simple, exquisite, and full of delight.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2007

    A wonderful new book!

    I was blown away by the meticulous line work of the author and illustrator of the book, Peter Sis. This book is compelling not just as a children book, but is to be appreciated for the artwork contained within as well. It is reminiscent of some of Edward Gorey's work. A must see for art fans!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2010

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    Posted October 20, 2010

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