The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

the wallMy second  book for Non-fiction November is a kids book, a little kids book.  This makes reviewing it something of a challenge for me. While I do read Young Adult fiction on a regular basis both for work and, sometimes, for pleasure, I rarely read books for elementary readers.  My school’s librarian had this one on display so I picked it up.

But how do I review it?  Did I like it? Would a seven-year-old like it? What about a child who’s not yet reading independently yet?

I liked it.

The story is autobiography mixed with history.  There is a simple tale of a boy who wants to draw running throughout The Wall, kind of like Harold and the Purple Crayon.   Overlaid on top of this story is the history of Soviet era Prague.  While I can’t say that I learned anything new, I do think The Wall would work as a decent primer on the subject.  I’m not sure if many older students would have the patience for a kids book, but anyone interested in the subject will find the educational aspects of the book mixed well with the more straightforward entertainment.

The pictures are very good, too.  Mr. Sis’s black and white drawings include splashes of color that add to the story and provide for moments of rainbow breakout imagery.  The Prague Spring section does this very well.

Would very young readers enjoy The Wall?  I’m not so sure.  I’ll have to defer here to anyone who knows or is a seven-year-old reader.  The basic story of a boy who wants to draw should have a lot of appeal for many readers.  Most kids want to draw, I think.  I expect Harold and his crayon still sell very well after all these many years because of this.   But I wonder how the historical overlay will work.  I thought it was a lot of information for seven-year-old to take in with a large amount of very high level vocabulary.

I think The Wall borders dangerously close to books that are supposed to be good for you.  Most kids I work with avoid books that are supposed to be good for them.

I really don’t think The Wall would work well as a read-aloud at bed time book.  I think parents would have to spend more time explaining what’s going on in the pictures than they would reading.  I think the best books for very young readers and pre-readers for lack of a better term are very simple both story wise and picture wise.  A good, straightforward story with easy to understand pictures.

So, that will be my review for this book.

You can probably see why I don’t read and review very many elementary level books.

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3 Comments

  1. Randall says:

    I think you did a darn good review. Sounds like an interesting book!

  2. Jim Randolph says:

    It is an interesting and beautiful book, but it doesn’t check out much in my elementary school library. It’s checked out six times in six years. That’s enough to keep it on the shelf but, yeah, it’s definitely more of a niche thing. Part of the problem is teachers don’t check it out because it’s not directly related to the curriculum and since it’s in the biography section only the few kids who like to browse that section for fun are going to pick it up. I do author studies every once in a while and Peter Sis would be a fun one, especially when I’m extolling the virtues of interesting picture books to older elementary students. Sis has some great ones on scientists like Darwin, Galileo, etc.

    1. I thought that would be the case for The Wall. I really wish he had written a book for an older readership. If this had been a Y.A. book, I think I would have liked it much more.

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