I found The Wall filed in the children’s section of my public library, but I really would argue that it belongs, or also belongs, in the adult graphic books section.
This is a memoir by artist Peter Sis of his years growing up in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia. Told mostly through pictures (he is also the book’s illustrator), it is in two senses a “portrait of an artist as a young man.”
Part of the book features entries from Sis’s diaries over the years, but the bulk of it consists of detailed montages of events that characterized life in the Communist Bloc. These pictures are drawn in gray, black, and white, with only a few exceptions. This reflects both the bleakness and the categorical imperatives of life under the Soviet umbrella. Soviet influence is shown, fittingly, in red. By contrast, Western cultural incursions are shown in vivid happy colors.
Sis often dreams of being free, and he depicts these dream sequences as well. One, for example, shows two maps – his current land and his dream land (the latter featuring the New York skyline in the corner). The places in his present country have names like “Suspicion” “Corruption” and “Injustice.” On the other map, we can see “Freedom,” “Truth,” “Wisdom,” and “Integrity.” [Oh, would that it were entirely so!]
On the very last two-page panel, he proclaims, “Sometimes dreams come true. On November 9, 1980, the wall fell.” This of course refers to the Berlin Wall (which actually fell out of confusion more than a deliberate effort. See the story here, and check out this very cool interactive historical time line here.)
As Sis explains in the text that runs around the picture:
“One country after another becomes free: Poland (1989), Czechoslovakia (1989), Hungary (1989-1990), East Germany (1989-1990), Romania (1989-1990), and Bulgaria (1989-1990). East and West Germany unite (1990), and the Soviet Union breaks up (1991). The Cold War is over.”
Evaluation: There are quite a few aspects of this Caldecott Honor Book that will appeal to younger children, but I think it will have more value to young people learning about this period of history, and to adults who perhaps will even remember these revolutionary times.
Note: Václav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, says of the work, “Peter Sís’s book is most of all about the will to live one’s life in freedom and should be required reading for all those who take their freedom for granted.”
Published by Frances Foster Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, 2007