Week 7: The Wall

Book summary: The true genius of this book is that it manages to be several book in one. Introduced with a history narrative, the action starts very basically – with simple sentences, describing the simple thoughts of a baby or young child. As our author grows, so does the vocabulary and awareness. His pictures become more sophisticated, and more scary, as the child grows to realize there’s another world out there. Interspersed with entries from Sis’s own journals, The Wall tells a story of growing up behind the Iron Curtain in a deeply personal and creative way.

My impressions: I wanted to cry while I was reading this, except that I also knew that freedom would win eventually. I fell like this is such a personal book. Art is personal, it’s the personal made public, and autobiographical art is even more so. I think this book can really reach kids of many ages – younger children can understand the simple text and older students can grasp the more complex story lines told in the margins. I would recommend this book to youth and adults alike.

Citation: Sis, P. (2007). The wall. New York, NY: Frances Foster Books.

Professional review:

“Personal, political, passionate – these are among the qualities that readers have come to appreciate about Sis’s autobiographical books such as The Three Golden Keys (Doubleday, 1994) and Tibet through the Red Box (Farrar, 1998). This layered foray into family and Czech history begins with succinct sentences at the bottom of each page. Cations accompanying the art – arranged in panels of varying size – fill in more details. The pacing and design of the compositions create their own rhythm, contributing much to the resulting polyphony. Sis immediately engages even his youngest audience with a naked, cherubic self-portrait, colored pencil in hand. The ensuing scenes of home and community life in Prague, rendered predominately in black and white, are punctuated with Communist red and tiny fragments of color as the young artist experiments in the face of rigid conformity. The third-person narration achieves an understatement that helps to mitigate the more disturbing descriptions found in his double-spread journal entries. Bordered by Sis’s youthful art, photograph, and propaganda posters, these selections depict his reality behind the Iron Curtain from 1954 to 1977. The recurring themes of music and art as important vehicles of self-expression, and the relationship between a government’s inclination to embrace or suppress that creativity and the state’s vitality, will resonate with teens. This celebration of the arts climaxes in a full-color spread a la Peter max. Complex, multifaceted, rich in detail, this book shares the artist’s specific heritage while connecting to universal longing. His concluding visions of freedom are both poignant and exhilarating…”

Lukehart, W. (August, 2007). The wall: Growing up behind the iron curtain. [Review of]. School Library Journal, 53(8), 139-140.

Library uses: I know kids don’t like learning during the summer, but I think this book could really be used during the weeks leading up to Independence Day to contrast the experience of growing up in Communist Prague with the relative freedom of growing up in America. I think this book is engaging and personal enough to stand out among other books that may try to teach that lesson.

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