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The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  4,016 ratings  ·  723 reviews
I was born at the beginning of it all, on the Red side--the Communist side--of the Iron Curtain. Through annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes, Peter Sís shows what life was like for a child who loved to draw, proudly wore the red scarf of a Young Pioneer, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, and believed whatever he was told to believe. But adoles ...more
Hardcover, 56 pages
Published August 21st 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
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4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,016 ratings  ·  723 reviews

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Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mark-harmon
wow. i truly do underestimate the sophistication of childrens books. and even uninformed adults can learn things! (like i didnt know allen ginsberg had been deported from prague for subversion.)this book really does a good job of explaining to kids what it was like to live with so many restrictions and deprivations, and so much fear and caution. im not a great fan of the artwork, but i think it works really well with the story.
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Iron Curtain: The boundary that symbolically, ideologically, and physically divided Europe into two separate areas after World War II.

Cold War: The geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle that emerged between capitalism and communism from 1945 to 1991.

Communism: The ideology of the Soviet Union and other countries; a system of government in which the state controls all social and economic activity.

These basic terms lay the foundation for this graphic memoir, in which Sis recounts his
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Totalitarian regimes make for good children’s books. They just do. What could be more inherently exciting plot-wise than a world in which you never know who to trust? Where children report parents to the police and freedom and creativity are stifled under the boots of oppressors? That makes for good copy. This year alone we’ve the Cultural Revolution book, “The Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party” by Ying Chang Compestine and the much discussed Peter Sis title, “The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron ...more
Please note that while I am most definitely left of centre economically and consider myself a social democrat, I have actually politically NEVER been in any manner enamoured of Communism (especially Stalinism) and its state-run generally dictatorial collectivism and have therefore and for that very reason also always despised the dictatorships that proliferated behind the so-called Iron Curtain (in countries like the former East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary, Poland et al).

And becau
Oct 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Caldecott honor book and winner of the Robert Sibert Medal this incredibly detailed book functions on a number of levels. It is simultaneously; a written history of Czechoslovakia twice invaded by the Soviets, an autobiography of the author’s life behind the Iron Curtain and a graphic novel detailing historical and personal events.

This book could be used by grades 4th through High School. The detailed pictures represent historical and biographical events clearly from a personal perspective. The
Patrick Peterson
This book is simply fantastic.

For anyone who wants to know what life was really like growing up behind the iron curtain in general, or more specifically in Czechoslovakia.

For anyone who wants their kids to know what communism really means.

For anyone who enjoys wonderfully perceptive drawings, however crude or complex, with minimal, but telling text.

For anyone who grew up in the 50s-70s who knew something about what was happening in eastern Europe then, but did/does not quite know for sure.

Jun 17, 2009 rated it liked it
This is kind of like a Kundera novel for kids, but told with lots of pictures and not so many words. Better than some of the Kundera books I have read, like say Immortality, but not others. Is it right to even be comparing Kundera to a children's book? Not growing up in a totalitarian regime, I don't really know what it is like, and I have a feeling that compared to even a sliver of what life was like under Soviet rule the freedoms of the West are glorious, but there is quite a bit of almost col ...more
Mar 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It goes without saying The Wall is a valuable history lesson, but also a blueprint for an emotional story of a young man whose imagination and creativity allowed him to endure the times of political hardship. The colours in the book are one of the main sources of emotional messages. The red Soviet star symbolises an utter subordination of the people controlled by the political apparatus and the red colour seems to be present in all the pictures of the boy’s childhood, which means the domestic li ...more
As I read The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis, I was thinking back to my visit to Prague a few years ago and tried to imagine what it must have been like to grow up there when Peter Sis did. The Prague I saw was nothing like the government controlled, society censored, and creativity crusher that he describes in this intricate story. When I was in Prague, it was as if the citizens were making up for all the lost time under Communist rule. Women in provocative clothes propos ...more
Amazing book!
Illustrations are beautiful and the history is so well portrayed.
It is considered a child book but every adult should read this because the author was able to show a very important part of History in a very simple (here as a compliment), direct and clear way.
Jul 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm not a huge fan of Peter Sis, I do that ubiquitous "I appreciate his work but don't really enjoy it personally thing" that I hope covers me should not loving him be the un-cool thing I kind of think it is. One of the things I don't like about his work is it is usually soooooo wordy. To me, his picture books feel like a pregnant woman in their 11th month. Just too much of a good thing.

BUT this book.

This book was just the opposite. I was wishing it were longer, not in words necessarily but in
Nov 23, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: children, caldecott
This is the first 1-star I gave to a Caldecott Honor books. I'm terribly disappointed this book made the list and the fact that it did made me rather angry, and here's why. This book is no better than the propaganda the communist states put up. How is this book ever of any benefit to children reading Caldecotts? Let us go through it point by point.

1) The illustrations: mediocre at best, nothing special, nothing that would spur a child's imagination.

2) The text: confusing, there are smaller text
Emily Hynes
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mc-literature
Peter Sis's The Wall is a moving story of his experience growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. It is a multi-layered story, where with each glance you notice something new that adds new depth to your reading. The picture book is both informative and narrative. Each page includes simplistic text that could be followed by young readers--mapping the author's life as a child and artist influenced by communist "brainwashing."

Also included are symbolic illustrations that act as a historic
A brilliantly illustrated and narrated non-fiction graphic novel, The Wall:Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis depicts Sis's life growing up in Prague, Czechoslovakia, during the Cold War. You have to see this book and flip through its pages to fully appreciate Sis's sophisticated manner in telling his story--from his use of color (or lack thereof) in the story line to the juxtaposition of text. Each page of this powerful memoir has you wanting more--in order to better understand wha ...more
Agnes U
Mar 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book with even more amazing message. Despite my high demands for more alluring art style, I was completely blown away by the techniques used to portray historical facts and the narrator's life struggle. I was skeptical at first, since I concluded that war is not a topic a child could ever read and be exposed to; however, the author does a remarkable job at portraying the struggles of both the war that the Czech Republic faced and a personal artistic struggle of the author. I've never ...more
Jan 29, 2012 rated it liked it
An interesting autobiography illustrated in several different ways. Some of the black and white drawings have touches of red and are set in panels. Other illustrations are full-page or double-page spreads, some full color, others black and white or red. The story details the hardships and despair of the people behind the wall, and Sis's dreams of becoming a free person. The illustrations do a good job of depicting the dichotomy between the two realities.
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís is an incredible informative text for students to learn what life was like during the Cold War in Czechoslovakia. It was fascinating to grow with the author and understand the Cold War through his point of view. I thought this book was interesting because I was unaware of the impact of art and music at such a censored time. This story is perfect for students and adults to understand through a first person point of view the Cold War in a c ...more
I can't say I loved this book, yet I think it has value. It explains how Sis felt growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. It's a unique insight into his experiences living in a communist country with little freedom. I recognize that it has a fairly didactic approach, but as this is autobiographical and the author experienced these things, I feel he has the right to express his views about the evils of the communist state he lived under. He saw and experienced some terrible things. (I'm ...more
Melissa Joulwan
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: czech-republic, 2018
I've read many memoirs about life behind the Iron Curtain, and this thin, illustrated book packs more emotional wallop than 400 pages of text can. Sis's art—black, white, and red illustrations—appear quite whimsical at first glance, but look closer, and you'll see the burdens of living under a dictatorial regime. So many red stars and flags! But this story of Prague from post-WWII until 1998, is not heavy—it's sobering, sometimes shocking, informative, but ultimately, hopeful and defiant. The sn ...more
Lori Anderson
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully drawn tale of a troubled time. Excellent for all ages.
Corinne Edwards
I first fell in love with Peter Sís decades ago, when I read his picture book Starry Messenger, about Galileo Galilei. I loved the style and feel of his illustrations. When I saw that he'd written a picture book memoir about his childhood, I was intrigued. The Wall is about growing up in Prague, a Prague under the thumb of Russia and Communism. Early on, our author is aware of the stark reality that he can think and dream and draw one thing at home behind closed doors, but out in the world, he n ...more
Apr 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: rll-529
Peter Sis' THe Wall captivated me and left me wanting to learn more about life for all kinds of people living behind the iron curtain during the cold war. I connected with the text as a parent of young children, reflecting on the freedoms I at times take for granted. Sis sketches pictures showing the bars placed on his thinking. Growing up as a schoolboy he was forced to become part of the soviet governed ways. He was told how to draw, what to draw, what to think. In his communist world the only ...more
Nov 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: ya, j-nonfiction
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
By Peter Sis
Farr, Straus and Giroux, 2007 (56 pages)
Non-Fiction Book/Award Winner
Caldecott Honor Book
Ages 11 and up

In this autobiographical story, a young artist is coming of age in Cold War time Czechoslovakia, when Soviet political repression controls all aspects of human life.

In this nonfiction work the author depicts his life story in a series of mostly black and white sketch-like drawings. The bright red elements embedded within the compositions
Betti Napiwocki
The Wall by Peter Sis is a sophisticated picture book which represents the story of author Peter Sis life as her grew up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. Although this book is categorized as a picture book, it is a blend of picture book and graphic novel. The illustrations are as vivid and telling as the words on the page. Winner of the Caldecott award for illustrations, the reader becomes aware of the absence of color – except for spots of communist red – on most pages, each page reflecti ...more
Jenn Henderson
The Iron Curtain, art as resistance/escape

American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults; American Library Association Notable Children's Books; Caldecott Honor Book; IRA Notable Books for a Global Society; Boston Globe - Horn Book Award; New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Books of the Year; Orbis Pictus; Top 10 Editors’ Picks: Children; Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year; CCBC Choice (Univ. of WI); Children's Books: 100 Titles for Read
Berkley Morris
May 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Being a history enthusiast, this book immediately caught my attention. I remember reading many books in high school about the Cold War. However, I have not read a book like this one. Peter Sis does a stellar job telling the "other" side of the story--his side, from the inside looking out. I especially enjoyed that this story was written from a child's perspective growing up on the communistic side of the Wall.
Although the Soviet Union dictated how he dressed, what he listened to, what he watc
Nov 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Peter Sis's Caldecott and Sibert Award winning book is an autobiographical text that chronicles the author's childhood growing up behind the "Iron Curtain." Peter Sis was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, and grew up in Prague during the Cold War era. After the end of World War II, Russians occupied this territory-beginning an era of extreme isolation and fear. An artist from as early as he can remember, Peter uses drawing as a means of expressing his hopes and dreams he often feels he must silence ...more
Jan 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Having grown up in the west during the Cold War, I have vivid memories of the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. The threat of nuclear war was a commonplace part of our everyday lives. In The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, Peter Sis depicts his own childhood in Russian occupied Czechoslovakia.

At home, Peter can draw anything he wants. At school, however, he can only draw what he is told. He explains how easy it was for children to be brainwashed and not questi
Jun 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Audience: Suggested for 3rd grade and up; historical non-fiction; combination graphic novel and picture book with journaling

Appeal: I made an instant connection with this book as I have visited the Czech Republic, and this book shed light on the behaviors that my family and I had noticed while we stayed there. The book is a first-person account in which the author takes us through his early childhood into adulthood behind the Iron Curtain. The book is brutally honest about what it was like to be
Jaclin McGuire
I agree with a lot of the posts that say there's a lot going on in this book, which is why I think (along with many others) that this book is for an older reader who can digest a decent amount of text, as it's a heavy subject matter, but also appreciate the format that includes drawings, wrap-around text, etc.

The use of the (cute) baby at the beginning and the use of the color red struck me as genius, as the baby implies that such a strong historical movement affected everyone, and the color red
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PETER SÍS is an internationally acclaimed illustrator, filmmaker, painter and author. Born in 1949 in Brno, Czechoslovakia, and grew up in Prague. He studied painting and filmmaking at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague and the Royal College of Art in London. His animated work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. He came to America in 1982, and now lives in New York’s Hud ...more