Monday, February 4, 2008

The Wall : Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

Nonfiction Monday!

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain (Caldecott Honor Book) by Peter Sis
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 56 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (August 21, 2007)

Imagine a life where you could only draw what the government said you could draw. A life where you couldn’t listen to music or read books of your own choice, you couldn’t grow your hair long, and you were asked to report your parents if they said anything negative about the government.

This was what life was like for Peter Sis and countless others who grew up in Cold War Era Czechoslovakia under Soviet rule.

Through journal entries, captions, and the story of a boy who loves to draw (Sis), we get an account of the Cold War era from 1948 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The boy in the book is allowed to draw anything he wants at home, but when he starts school, he can only draw what he’s told to draw. We learn how easy it is to brainwash children who are encouraged to report their parents if they hear them say anything against the government. To Sis, this is the way life is until he gets wind of things he isn’t allowed to know about: rock ‘n roll music, the Beatles, Elvis Presley. We then learn what it’s like to be oppressed, to be denied freedom and get glimpses of Sis’ dreams to be free.

Sis’ graphic-novel like book effectively conveys tone through color. With black and white sketches, the only splashes of color are communist red and the colors in the boy’s drawings. During the Prague Spring of 1968, the colors in the book brighten, demonstrating hope and cheerfulness—colors of freedom. But they quickly go back to the black and white drawings when the totalitarian regime comes back in full force.

A stirring book, I recommend this for older kids who are able to grasp the seriousness of the content and even high school students who are studying the Cold War.

See the rest of the Nonfiction Monday roundup at Picture Book of the Day.


  1. I love this book. Great review! I booktalked The Wall (and two of Peter Sis's other nonfiction picture books, which I highly recommend checking out [Starry Messenger and The Tree of Life]) to a class of 4th-6th graders today and they loved it, too!

  2. Hi Abby! Thanks for the recommendations. The Wall is the first book of Peter Sis's that I've ready, so I will definitely check out these two!