The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis
This book has gotten six starred reviews so far this year, making it one of the best reviewed children’s books of the year, if not THE best reviewed. And it deserves each and every star.
Sis takes readers on his own personal journey through the darkness, suspicion and horror of growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. Readers will watch the word “compulsory” repeated again and again as people are no longer allowed to make their own decisions. But in almost every picture there is one little bit of dissent that gives the reader hope. Otherwise the oppressive nature of the book would be too much to bear.
Sis has excelled at making this complex subject one that is accessible to children. His art, done primarily in black ink with touches of red, is the perfect conduit to understanding the situation. The colorful pages filled with photographs, his art and quotes from his journals offer a touch of sunshine in the book, giving readers a chance for a breath before they have to return to the dreary and dangerous world of Communism. There are illustrations here that had me in tears, particularly the one showing the division between the free world and the world behind the Iron Curtain. What a powerful image!
I traveled to Prague in the mid-1980s for a brief trip. What I saw and felt there is captured perfectly in the illustrations. While the people were vibrant and amazing, the feeling of dread colored everything. What a masterpiece of a book to find a way to express that so directly that I can feel it again, including the pressure in my gut and chest.
Highly recommended for ages 7-10. This is not a picture book for bedtime, but for understanding. For seeing the world as it was and is. For truth.