Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Thing About Picture Books is...

...they are so good for all ages.


Case in point: I just bought Peter Sis' new book The Wall. Subtitled "Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain", this picture book gives us a picture of communist oppression from the point of view of a child growing into manhood. Sis pulls no punches; he is unabashedly pro-American and draws the secret police with leering eyes and piggish faces, while rejoicing in details of western freedoms that trickle into his world. His signature line drawings,often in grey with splashes of red for the communists, and full of color and fancy for the free world, perfectly depict the contrasting cultures. Folks who love Sis' artwork will not be disappointed.

But an even more intriguing part of the book, and the reason it works on different levels, are the notes and photos from Sis' own journals and life. He uses a series of his early drawings and photos as frames for entries taken from his personal journals. This peek into the private life of a child growing up in the changing tumultuous world behind the iron curtain, in both word and picture, is unique.
The book begins with drawings of baby Sis (drawn by grown-up Sis) in 1948, as the Iron Curtain falls around his native Czechoslovakia. At first, it seems fun. There are flags and parades, art classes and gymnastics, all geared to raising the ultimate communist citizen. But it gets creepy rather quickly...in one picture, a pig-faced official sits with a boy to ask about his family. In another, elderly people are exiting a church while a group of young children in red neckerchiefs stands by, their leader pointing out (we presume) the folly of religion, which the brief text tells us is "discouraged". He repeats such words as "compulsory" in the margins.

Glimpses of hope abound in the drawings, only to be shadowed by secret police, tanks, walls and wires. There is a wall in nearly every drawing, and the effect is chillingly oppressive. But hope grows throughout the book, as young Sis finds ways to live free. In one journal entry he claims to have tie-dyed everything he could find! And, in the end of the book, in the Orwellian year 1984, Sis leaves his home and flies to freedom.

5 comments:

Paula in MN said...

Thanks! I just added it to my ever-growing wish list!

~cactus mouse~ said...

Wow! My Father's family is from Russia (my dad was born in Shanghai). Thanks for the review, this looks intriguing. And I just got an Amazon gift certificate for my birthday, too!

MaryM said...

Just requested it. Thanks for the review.

Rachel said...

Requested here too. It fits in nicely with some others that we've been reading. Thanks!

MacBeth said...

I'm glad to know this review was helpful! I sometimes wonder whether a woman with "big kids" is a bit nutty for loving picture books. Thanks for the comments!