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The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Wall is a Caldecott Honor-winning memoir by author-illustrator Peter Sis about growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. It's a serious book that deserves time and close attention. There are many big political and philosophical ideas, and mentions of events that may disturb some children, including a plane hijacking, imprisonment, and death.
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What's the story?
Is it any good?
This unique autobiography gives an accessible child's-eye view of communism in Czechoslovakia. It's a heavy topic but one handled admirably by author-illustrator Peter Sis, who in The Wall intersperses excerpts from his journal with straightforward third-person narration and detailed illustrations. Sis knew he was an artist at a very early age. You see the way his art was shaped by the events around him as he grew up, and yet it also allowed him to wrest free of those cultural constraints. His meticulous pen and ink illustrations invite close attention. The use of splashes of color -- particularly the blood red representing communism -- is arresting and effective.
The history of that time was dense, and kids may need help understanding what was happening in the rest of the world at the time. They may also miss some of the touchstones that meant so much to Sis: bands like the Rolling Stones and tie-dying shirts. They might wonder why long hair was such a big deal, too. But the book offers a terrific opportunity for further discussion and exploration.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the Cold War is shown in The Wall. Why was it called the Cold War? How did the author's experience in Czechoslovakia compare with what was happening in America at that time?
Why did Western bands like the Beach Boys and the Beatles mean so much to the author when he was young?
Ask your grandparents to share their memories of the Cold War era.
For kids who love history
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