Several memories of my own came flooding back when I read the story The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis. I remember when the wall came down; I was in middle school at the time. Our school had a play about the wall being torn down. I helped with the set and was an extra in the play. It wasn’t until I was in high school when I started to really understand the significance of the wall being torn down. When I was in Germany the Reichstag in Germany was being wrapped. Our school group toured the Government building in Bonn and I remember the tour lady telling our school group that they were transferring to the new capital. I remember seeing the building wrapped on the cover of a newspaper at my host family’s coffee table. My memories and Peter Sis memories of the Berlin Wall are very different. I grew up on the side that had freedoms and Sis did not.
Review of the book:
Peter’s book is a mix of drawings, personal journal entries, and a story of an artist. Many of the images are in black and white with a small section of red in several of the black and white drawings. The images are interesting to look at and there are little treasures throughout the book. I needed to go back several times to see all the details and layers in each image. For example, in one of the images a person is trying to escape and the guards and their dog are hidden among the trees. The personal journal entries give the reader an interesting view into Peter Sis’s feelings and thoughts. The beginning and end come full circle with a baby starting to draw and an old man drawing in the same position.
I would recommend this book to any teacher talking about the Iron Curtain and what life was like behind it. For ages 9 and up.
Summary of the book:
There is an artist who has been drawing ever since he can remember. He continues drawing through his childhood; drawing what he wants at home. Drawing what he is told to at school. He draws what is around him and doesn’t question. When he is older he starts to question what is going on around him behind the Iron Curtain. He is worried that his drawings could be used against him. He dreams of being free and in the end he sees the Wall come down.
Possible activities to use with this book
These would be words to introduce before reading the story.
IRON CURTAIN: “The boundary that symbolically, ideologically, and physically divided Europe into two separate areas after World War 2” (Peter Sis).
COLD WAR: “The geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle that emerged between capitalism and communism from 1945 to 1991” (Peter Sis).
COMMUNISM: “The ideology of the Soviet Union and other countries; a system of government in which the state controls all social and economic activity” (Peter Sis).
Explain: what would you do if you were behind the wall?
Explain: how you would feel if your freedoms where taken away?
Look at the artwork by Peter Sis. Draw in the style of Peter Sis a picture from your childhood. Add a small part of color somewhere in your picture.
Here is a link to a teacher’s guide put out by Macmillian. Scroll all the way to the bottom. You will need to download the PDF before you can view it.
Links to other places related to this amazing book
Podcast: If you click here you will be directed to a podcast interview with Peter Sis about his book. The podcast is about his growing up and why he created the book. The interview is five minutes of listening pleasure.
Author’s Homepage: If you click here you will directed to Peter Sis’s homepage. Sis’s page has a book list of all the books he has written along with books he has illustrated. There are also three different games that can be printed out related to Sis’s books. There is also an author’s about page with Sis’s history. Peter Sis also has other links related to his other books on his home page. I rather enjoyed his slide show of work and himself.
Sis, P. (2007). The wall: Growing up behind the iron curtain. Frances Foster Books. New York, NY.