In honor of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I thought it would be apropos to share a story involving the topic…so, here it is…The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís. Enjoy!
This book is about a boy who grew up in communist Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. This boy loved to draw and drew whatever he wanted…that is, until he began school where communist indoctrination took place. He then drew what he was told to draw. Many major events took place in this boy’s life—Prague Spring, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of Communism, etc.
The illustrations are crude, yet detailed and mostly black and white, with some red. The color red seems to symbolize Communism in this context—red flags, red hammer and sickles, red Russian tanks, etc… Whenever the author speaks of freedom, Western ideals, and the like, the illustrations are done in full color. It is a beautifully executed concept.
This book won the Robert E. Siebert Medal and was named a Caldecott Honor Book, among other awards and honors. The plot itself is quite simple, but the addition of captions to the illustrations adds a great deal of depth. Keeping the sentences short helps to add to the feeling of mounting fear of the government as the author experienced it.
Because this book is autobiographical in nature, I consider it to be quite authentic, both culturally and historically. The author also includes little snippets from his journals which include historical details that help gain credibility. Also, since I studied Russian history—including Russia’s involvement in the Cold War and the Eastern Bloc, I can vouch for the authenticity of this book because many of the details can be corroborated using various other historical sources.
I don’t believe there is anything in this book that is inappropriate for any age. The art is intriguing and plot is easy. I think that this book would be fun to use in a social studies class discussing the Cold War or a Language Arts or Art class—students could write their own autobiographical graphic novel. Grades 6 and up.
I loved this book because it covered a topic that is quite close to my heart. Sís helped to make this topic simple enough for children and teens to understand without bogging them down with the more depressing aspects of Communism, as it played out in Eastern Europe. The drawings were interesting, sometimes comical and I really enjoyed the way Sís used color. The red in his black and white panels was very striking.
Themes: Communism, Authoritative government regimes, following directions (“compulsory”), dreams, rock ‘n roll, fear, individuality, social conditions
*Photo credits: The photos for this post were obtained through a Google Image Search and are not my own; I claim no ownership over them. They are merely used to show the illustration-style of this book.