Monday, August 6, 2012

The Wall, by Peter Sis

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
by Peter Sis
56 pages
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 9780374347017

Scenes from Sis's childhood under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia tell his story and the story of worldwide events during the Cold War.

The cover art seems to be a cardboard rectangle hand-bound with twine, like a child's scrapbook. This story could kick off a history lesson (or close it, if a teacher is testing for comprehension and retention) about the Cold War, the Iron Curtain, and the Berlin Wall. Sis relates short factual sentences, such as "Children are encouraged to report on their families and fellow students. Parents learn to keep their opinions to themselves." and "Secret police are watching everyone." to explain the political climate of his childhood. Readers learn of happenings in various countries over the years -- wars, scandals, social movements, leadership changes -- and eventually of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Presented largely in black and white with touches of red (for example, in the neckerchiefs and flags of the Young Pioneers), the illustrations often show masses of small figures overshadowed by enormous government forces -- Big Brother-like, they loom above the crowds literally (in the drawing) as well as figuratively. When the '60s come around, we're treated to a two-page spread in full psychedelic color, but then stark black and white descend again as the narrative speaks of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Sis writes and draws of "[his] life -- before America", and of all the dreams he had even when his self-expression was stifled. Other budding artists will appreciate this story of his determination and persistence.

Author Info
Media: pen and ink

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