Tag Archives: the wall

the wall by peter sis

1303414There have been a couple of picture books lately I wasn’t sure what to do with in terms of This Picture Book Life.  I’m enamored of them but they’re also not the usual little kid-friendly fare.


Not to worry, I’ve figured it out! I’m starting a series called “PICTURE BOOKS FOR THE OLDER SET.” And by older set I mean books that would appeal to junior high and high school students (and full-fledged grownups, as always).





First up, The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis.


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I can think of a number of middle schoolers I taught (when I taught) who would’ve loved this book. Precocious students. History-obsessed ones. Artists. Rebels. And I think outright teens would get a lot out of it too, a way to explore history through art and one person’s experience growing up in history. An incredible supplement to a textbook or novel on the period.


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Formatted as a graphic diary, Peter Sis tells of communist Czechoslovakia, the Iron Curtain, and the Cold War. Simultaneously, he tells the story of himself as a child. As an artist.


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If you were just to read the story words printed at the bottom of each page, a fairly small child could understand and follow along (though it is difficult, sometimes disturbing subject matter and images). But above those lines, in the drawings, in the captions, a deeper, more detailed chronicle emerges.

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“As long as he could remember, he had loved to draw. 

At first he drew shapes.

Then he drew people.

After drawing whatever he wanted to at home, he drew what he was told to at school.

He drew tanks.

He drew wars.

He didn’t question what he was being told.”


(Typing that gave me goosebumps.)

And the corresponding text:



The Soviets take control of Czechoslovakia and close the borders.

The People’s Militia enforces the new order.

Communist symbols and monuments appear everywhere.

The Czech government takes its orders from Moscow.

The display of red flags on state holidays—COMPULSORY.

People who don’t comply are punished.”

(That did too.)


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The only colors on these pages are white and black and red. Except for Sis’s drawings within the drawings. Dabs and jots of bright color. Then, one whole page filled with vividness, art, poetry, and The Beatles. Freedom. Self-expression. Color. Music. Joy.


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Stay tuned for more older-set picture books. I’ve got two in the works already!