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The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

Bibliographic Information: Sís, P. (2007). The wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Brief Annotation: Sís recounts the story of his life from childhood through the fall of the Berlin Wall in a complicated but beautiful and raw text.

Genre: Nonfiction (Autobiography)

Grade Level: 3rd-7th

Readers who will like this: Readers who enjoy learning about recent history; readers who enjoy non-traditional text formats; readers who are artists.

Rating/Response: 5; This book reminded me of some of my favorite things, and yet was completely unique. The structure of the story is very much in the vein of Satrapi’s Persepolis: recounting a childhood spent in a period of political tension and upheaval through the eyes of an adult. Sís combines a simple narrative with an encyclopedic collection of information relating life in Prague prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain and full page spreads of denser first-person journal entries. I feel like this should have made the book confusing or hard to follow, but instead, it allowed me as a reader to engage with the information at several levels. I learned so much that I didn’t know about life in the Soviet Union. However, the crowning glory of The Wall is the illustrations. Sís is an artist, and his art is able to bring an emotional realism to his story that it might otherwise lack. His art is reminiscent of Gorey, references the animation style of Yellow Submarine, and is still Sís, own. The way that he uses color is particularly powerful, as much of the illustrations are black, white, and the pervasive red of the U.S.S.R. It is a visually stunning masterpiece that I can’t possibly do justice to with my words.

One question you would ask before a read aloud: Imagine if you were born and grew up someplace far away from here. How do you think your life might be different?