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Tibet Through the Red Box (Caldecott Honor Book) Hardcover – November 5, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

As a child in 1950s Czechoslovakia, Caldecott Honor-winning artist Peter Sís would listen to mysterious tales of Tibet, "the roof of the world." The narrator, oddly enough, was his father--a documentary filmmaker who had been separated from his crew, caught in a blizzard, and (according to him, anyway) nursed back to health by gentle Yetis. Young Sís learned of a beautiful land of miracles and monks beset by a hostile China; of the 14th Dalai Lama, a "Boy-God-King"; and of "a magic palace with a thousand rooms--a room for every emotion and heart's desire." Hearing these accounts--some extravagant but all moving--helped the boy recover from an accident. The stories also allowed Sís's father to relate an odyssey other adults didn't seem to want to know about in cold war Czechoslovakia. "He told me, over and over again, his magical stories of Tibet, for that is where he had been. And I believed everything he said," Sís recalls. Still, after some time he too seemed to become immune, and the stories "faded to a hazy dream." With Tibet: Through the Red Box Sís finally pays tribute to this fantastical experience, illustrating key pages from his father's diary with complex, color-rich images of mazes, mountains, and mandalas. He also produces pictures of his family at home--simple, monochromatic images that are just as haunting as their Himalayan counterparts. In one, a wistful mother and two children gather around a Christmas tree, the absent father appearing as a featureless silhouette. Tibet is a treasure for the eyes and heart. Some will ask: Is it for children or adults? Others will wonder: Is it a work of art or a storybook? One of the many things that this book makes us realize is that such classifications are entirely (and happily) unnecessary. (Click to see a sample spread. Illustrations copyright ©1998 by Peter Sís. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.) --Kerry Fried

From Publishers Weekly

In this visually enticing, magically appealing, oversized volume, Czechoslovakian-born illustrator Sis applies his considerable gifts to painting a spellbinding portrait of his father's experiences in Tibet, where he was sent in the 1950s to instruct the Chinese in documentary filmmaking. Vladimir Sis was actually drafted by the Chinese government to record the construction of a highway from China into Tibet; he was to be gone more than two years, unable to communicate with his family. During that time, China invaded the neighboring country, and Sis senior witnessed events he dared not describe even after he returned home, except through "magical stories" he related to his son. The diary he kept during his sojourn in Tibet was locked in a red box, which his son only saw for the first time in 1994, when he received a cryptic message from his father: "The diary is now yours." Here Sis re-creates a facsimile of the diary with excerpts handwritten upon parchment-like backgrounds on double-page spreads brimming with pencil sketches of the events described (e.g., "The road looks like a cut into a beautiful cake"). He then magnifies the more uncanny aspects of the journal via the tales told to him by his father, recollected from childhood, which are printed on the succeeding spread. One entry describes a boy wearing bells who tracks down the filmmaker in the middle of nowhere to deliver a letter from his family; Sis then follows with "The Jingle-Bell Boy," festooning the account with a trail of rhododendron-leaf markings that lead his father ultimately to the Dalai Lama. The guileless prose of both father and son makes Sis's juxtaposition of the journal records with his own childhood memories all the more poignant. The luminous colors of the artwork, the panoramas of Tibetan topography and the meticulous intermingling of captivating details and the mystical aspects of Tibetan culture make this an extraordinary volume that will appeal to readers of all ages. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 870L (What's this?)
  • Series: Caldecott Honor Book
  • Hardcover: 64 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); 1st edition (November 5, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374375526
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374375522
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 0.4 x 11.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #736,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Ivy on August 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tibet: Through the Red Box is an entrancing and beautiful book. However, it is one of the new subgenre of "children's books for adults" - it may look like a picture book, but it is *not* suitable for young children.
Tibet is very like Maus: A Survivor's Tale, the award-winning graphic novel that bears only superficial resemblance to a standard graphic novel. In Tibet, as in Maus, a son tells his father's story - and what a story it is. Peter Sis' father was a documentary filmmaker who was hired by the Chinese to make a documentary about the building of a bridge in a remote province - and instead ended up losing his crew and witnessing the taking of Tibet.
Sis does a remarkable job of transmitting to the reader his father's love of Tibet and its mysteries and magic. Using tales his father told him, he creates an image of a dream land, a fantasy land, where weird and wonderful things happen. It's impossible not to love Sis' vision of Tibet - and therefore, impossible not to be sad that the Chinese take it.
I've said that the book is not for children, and I stand by that. However, I do believe that a child who is 6 or older could enjoy this book, provided it was read to him by an adult, and provided that that adult could cushion and explain some of the harder truths, not to mention some of the blending of fantasy and fact.
Peter Sis' father's story is incredible, and the book is marvelous. Any adult who loves books or history would love Tibet: Through the Red Box.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By kennedy19 on June 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Tibet" is an artistic triumph from Sis, whose illustrations have always been wonderful. This book, however, is a highly personal tale that he seeks to tell, and it is a rather complex and mystical one - for this reason I recommend it more for adults, though there's no harm in reading it to your child if you think it will go over (just don't be surprised if they don't appreciate it as you do.) I say the tale is complex, because the plot has many layers. Sis himself is a child in Cold War Europe, whose father disappears. The father then returns, saying he had been sent to make documentary films in Tibet. His memories are contained in a red box, which Sis does not open until later in life. These memories tell of tales both possible (meeting the Dalai Lama, Chinese takeover of Tibet) and exxaggerated (mythical cities, wild adventures, etc.) The overall tone of the book is not a political one, but a spiritual one. Having taken us through a dazzling series of illustrated mandalas and different colored rooms, Sis concludes that he isn't really sure what went on with his father in Tibet, and whether it was all a mystical dream on the part of his father or on the part of himself. It's difficult to explain all this, but I hope you get the picture as to how sophisticated the book really is. It will merit careful revisiting by adults, and its beautiful, stylized artwork and haunting mysticism will render rich rewards.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By KimUsey on November 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
It is never too early to educate children in the ways of the world, and "Tibet - Through the Red Box" does so with beauty and compassion. Labeling something as "political" (as if that was automatically a negative) and discarding it for that reason is symptomatic of the thinking that has kept Tibet repressed for so long. When a story is as moving and as beautifully illustrated as this one, it is the perfect vehicle to introduce children to new ideas, and should be held up as a model rather than kept away from the little darlings. I know my children will benefit greatly from reading books that open their minds and expose them to new thoughts and new cultures, and once our children benefit from that intellectual process, we all benefit.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I once had the great good fortune of seeing Peter Sis speak before a large audience of New York City Public Librarians. Charming, blessed with an uncommon eloquence, and funny as well Sis spoke of his work over the last few decades. From this speech I learned that Sis designed the poster for the movie of "Amadeus", that he was originally from Prague, and that one of his best works was something called, "Tibet: Through the Red Box". I was intrigued, but months passed and I filed away "Tibet" into my To-Be-Read pile of picture books. It was only with my steady reading of every single Caldecott Honor (of which "Tibet" won one in 1999) that I at last came to the book itself. I expected a title that was some sort of early-reader-this-is-what-Tibet-is kind of a thing. I had apparently forgotten that this was the man who brought us that remarkable Charles Darwin biography, "Tree of Life". "Tibet: Through the Red Box" is no mere picture book. It's a personal history and unreliable memory combined into the ultimate tribute to the author's father.

In 1994 Peter Sis received a note from his father that said merely, "The Red Box is now yours". Rushing home, Sis found the box in question and opened it to reveal a diary kept by his father of his time in Tibet in the mid-1950s. Sis the elder was a documentary filmmaker, and as such he was sent by the army film unit to China to make and teach filmmaking. The job was supposed to be about the Chinese highway currently being built in the Himalayas that would open Tibet up to the rest of the world. While there, Sis was separated from his project and explored the world of Tibet deeper than (he suspected) any Czech citizen before him. In this book, Peter Sis takes sections from this diary and illustrates them with his signature dotty style.
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