The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

Book review by
Dawn Friedman, Common Sense Media
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain Book Poster Image
Award-winning memoir shows artistic kid's view of Cold War.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers learn about the Cold War, communism, what it was like to grow up in Czechoslovakia in that era. 

Positive Messages

No matter how hard things get, don't give up. Art can help you cope and express your feelings in difficult circumstances. It's possible to protest oppression in peaceful demonstrations. Freedom is worth struggling for.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Author-illustrator Peter Sis shows how he yearned for freedom and freedom of expression through his art, never gave up, and finally made it to the West where he could be free. 

Violence & Scariness

Mentions of a riot after a concert, men hijacking a plane, imprisonment, and death.

Language

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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Kid, 12 years old April 9, 2008

THE COLD WAR KID a touching but mature subject

Peter Sis is the best illustrator i will veer know, his unique dot style really impresses me. Though his knew book may be a little hard on kids, and i highly re... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE WALL, author Peter Sis shares his childhood and young adulthood in communist Czechoslovakia during the Cold War era and his eventual escape to the West.

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.

Book details

For kids who love history

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