And The Wall came tumbling down

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis; published by Frances Foster Books (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), New York, 2007; 48 pages.

Don’t let the fact that this is a “picture book” fool you.  Sis’ autobiographical (“Any resemblance to the story in this book is intentional.”) portrayal of Communist Czechoslovakia is intended for older audiences.  Because his preferred medium is illustration, the images in this book speak louder than any words he could commit to paper.  Growing up behind the Iron Curtain created a dual world for Sis–his proper public COMPULSORY image and his dreamy, internal DISCOURAGED world.  His struggles with being himself in a world where that could destroy his family shaped the adult.

Since today’s kids have not had “duck and cover” drills at school, Sis provides a personal glimpse of a history they could never imagine.  I grew up at the tail end of the Cold War and I was amazed by the life Sis and his family were forced to live.  This book should be included in pathfinders for social studies!

The cover of the book appears to be a homemade corrugated cardboard cover to a scrapbook.  Inside, the images are the focal points, telling the abundance of the story.  However, Sis includes well-written definitions of unfamiliar terms, pages from his childhood journals, as well as stunningly written introduction and conclusion.  The end pages feature a black-and-white line art map of the world with the Communist Block colored red, with close up views of Czechoslovakia and Prague; no question what this book will be about!  After the introduction, I was struck by the “wall” of words, definitions of Communist-era terms, that imprisoned the drawing of baby Peter Sis.  Throughout the book, Sis also included captions beside the panels of his art, further describing Communist life.  Every aspect of this book was meticulously considered, all supporting the story of repression and ultimate independence.

3P     5Q     Grade Level: 5-12+

TheWallCover Art: As mentioned before, the cover looks like a scrapbook that the author decorated with his black, white and red art.  Unfortunately, I think the image of the baby playing drums inside a brick star will not appeal to teens.  Also, the format of the book, a picture book rather than a graphic novel, will also turn off the teens.  This book will have to be a required-reading text; that’s too bad, because there is much to be learned by older kids in this story.

From Reading List: Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2008

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