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The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain (Caldecott Honor Book) Hardcover – August 21, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 Maus or Persepolis to call their own, but they do now. Ages 8-up. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* In an autobiographical picture book that will remind many readers of Marjane Satrapi's memoir Persepolis (2003), Sís' latest, a powerful combination of graphic novel and picture book, is an account of his growing up in Czechoslovakia under Soviet rule. Written in several stands, the somewhat fragmented narrative never dilutes the impact of the boldly composed panels depicting scenes from Sís' infancy through young adulthood. Throughout, terrific design dramatizes the conflict between conformity and creative freedom, often through sparing use of color; in many cases, the dominant palette of black, white, and Communist red threatens to swallow up young Peter's freely doodled, riotously colored artwork. The panels heighten the emotional impact, as when Sís fleeing the secret police, emerges from one spread's claustrophobic, gridlike sequence into a borderless, double-page escape fantasy. Even as they side with Peter against fearsome forces beyond his control, younger readers may lose interest as the story moves past his childhood, and most will lack crucial historical context. But this will certainly grab teens—who will grasp both the history and the passionate, youthful rebellions against authority—as well as adults, many of whom will respond to the Cold War setting. Though the term picture book for older readers has been bandied about quite a bit, this memorable title is a true example. Mattson, Jennifer

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 760L (What's this?)
  • Series: Caldecott Honor Book
  • Hardcover: 56 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); First Edition edition (August 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374347018
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374347017
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 0.4 x 12.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #114,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Karel Kriz on September 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Not only for the children:

Everybody is familiar with the saying "we take certain things, like freedom for granted". Peter Sis' book is about living in a country where this self-evident asset did not exist. Bear in mind, the author does not write about some high ideas whose proclamations would endanger the state. He is talking about criticizing government actions within a scope of a neighborly gossip - one cannot complain about the shortages of particular goods, telephones are bugged, certain books and films are banned, press, art and whole culture are censored, foreign radios are jammed, letters are opened and censored, informers are rewarded for snooping etc. "Yes", some readers might say "we already read about it so many times, and the cold war ended seventeen years ago". Of course, books were written about it and some adults even read it, but what is new about this book is its target. It is aimed for the children. The author, a world famous children books illustrator was born in former Czechoslovakia under the Communist regime and he presents the way of life during that terrible period as seen with the children eyes. The book is illustrated with the child -like, but artistic drawings. One might classify it as Comics for the gifted children. Since the facts are refined by the child lenses, I would recommend to read it together with the parents and I am certain that both sides will benefit. Specifically two chapters titled "From my Journals", where the necessary historical ,political events are recorded, could be fully understood only by the High school and higher up students.
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40 of 50 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Totalitarian regimes make for good children's books. They just do. What could be more inherently exciting plot-wise than a world in which you never know who to trust? Where children report parents to the police and freedom and creativity are stifled under the boots of oppressors? That makes for good copy. This year alone we've the Cultural Revolution book, Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine and the much discussed Peter Sis title, "The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain." "The Wall" brings together your standard gorgeous Peter Sis imagery with content that is sure to cause debate and interest. Though it's not a book I would necessarily site as a personal favorite and that I have a couple issues with, I appreciate that Sis has created something worth discussing with kids, teens, and adults alike.

He was born at the very beginning of The Cold War in Czechoslovakia. A kid with a penchant for drawing, right from the start, we watch as the growth of young Sis is paralleled with the rise of fear in his nation. Peter draws at home and at school and alongside this story we read of the compulsory and discouraged actions both required and prohibited by the government. The drawn sections are broken up by journal entries Sis wrote at the time, reflecting his beliefs and dreams. With the late 1960s, Sis was entranced by Western influences, a dangerous thing at the time. Near the end, Sis dreams of flying away above it all with wings made out of his art. His escape is cemented by the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and an Afterword explains how he left and what Prague is like now.

This is certainly an earnest book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jayne on January 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This wonderful book manages to be both creative and insightful, documenting life behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War in words and graphic design. Peter Sis's use of color in his intricate illustrations highlights and enhances the matter-of-fact language of his text. He has managed to create a journal, biography, and social/historical commentary that is fascinating reading for older children and adults alike.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dana A. Mcfaden on June 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I am a great fan of Peter Sis and collect all his books, this was my last acquisition. Being the same age and growing up in the same place, I can relate to everything he has to tell, and on top of it, between the lines my own thoughts and memories always resurface and add more dimensions to his story. My favorite of his books is the Tibet through the red box. There is an adventure, suspense, politics, the mysterious Tibet, and everything told so beautifully and illustrated with incredibly sweet detail!
The Wall is an important book and had to be told to the world, though many similar stories had been written on the subject. This one adds yet another facet. Again, the illustrations are fabulous, yet for me, personally, opening the book took some time. Apprehensions, goose bumps, unwillingness to relive those times and reopen old wounds...
In another of his books, The Three Golden Keys, on the publisher page is a tiny note: Thank you for a dream J.O.! A nice reminder that Jackie Onassis, who then worked for Doubleday, was an editor of the final outcome. It is somehow missing in his future books :(
So, yes, a good book to read, an important one, and hopefully it will lead to curiosity about his other books. They are too good not to own and collect.
By the way, did you know that Peter Sis made beautiful wall mozaiks for the New York subway station at 86th Street and Lexington? You must see it!
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