Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Wall

Sis, Peter. 2007. The Wall. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

I originally read and reviewed this book in November of 2007. Since that time, The Wall was chosen as the 2008 Robert F. Sibert Medal winner and also as a Caldecott Honor book. My original review follows:

Peter Sis, author and illustrator of many children’s books, has written an autobiography, The Wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain. The story spans the years he spent growing up in Prague, Czechoslovakia from 1948 through 1986, recounting the end of WWII, the imposition of Communist rule, the Prague spring of 1968 and the brutal crackdown that followed, and eventual opening of the Iron Curtain .
His story is actually told in three formats. The storyline text is simple and can be read quickly and by younger readers; it is accompanied by simple line drawings of daily life in the former Czechoslovakia under Communism. The use of red symbolizes Communism, while the addition of color symbolizes Sis and his desire for freedom. The heart of the story, however, is in the double-spread journal pages interspersed throughout the book and his many drawings and sketches. The journal pages are diary entries from the period noting the mundane (a spat with his sister) to the horrific (a friend that sets himself afire to protest Communism) to the hopeful (the Beach Boys arrive in Prague, news of the Beatles filters in). A prolific artist from his earliest years, many of the drawings are from Sis’ early childhood, some are pop art from the 60s.
This is a picture book for older readers. With many of my relatives in what is now Slovakia (then part of Czechoslovakia), I grew up following this story through the eyes of my own relatives. This book is a fascinating look at the indoctrination of children into Communism and the inability of a repressive regime to suppress individuality and the desire for freedom. It will likely only have appeal to students interested in the Cold War era, fans of Peter Sis, and those with relatives or ancestors from the Czech Republic or Slovakia. I enjoyed it, but I doubt that it will have wide appeal.

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