The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís is the 2008 winner of the Sibert Medal which honors informational books.
While this is technically a children’s book I really think you could read it in a high school classroom because it explains through beautiful drawings what it was like growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia. I know I hated reading text books about history when I was in high school because it was impersonal information and the teachers themselves didn’t even seem to care. Reading a autobiographical story is the best way to teach history to students because it becomes personal and now longer facts and dates they have to memorize for one test and then forget. The facts become people and the dates become lives lived.
My ancestors are from Czechoslovakia and so this book hit home for me. My grandmother can still read in Czech and it is a big part of my family to celebrate our Czech heritage. My mom grew up during the Cold War and remembers drills where they had to go down into the fall out shelter. History is so easily passed over because it happened in the past and we are always told to look to the future. I say look to the past and remember. Just because you didn’t live during the time doesn’t mean someone you know didn’t. By understanding the past you can understand the future and why some people are the way they are. My mom grew up in a time of fall out shelters, I’m growing up in a time of terrorism where hearing about bombings in the news is slowly becoming a everyday occurrence.
I never really knew what is was like for people growing up behind the Iron Curtain because my history classes were a little lacking. This is an autobiography and a history book rolled into one. It’s written for children but I don’t think it should be limited to that age range. Adults can learn from this book too, I most certainly did. Some of the best historical novels are written by those that lived through that time period. They know what it was like better than anyone else. Books like the Wall are great because they teach children history but in such a way it doesn’t feel like “history”. History is just a story of what has already happened so I don’t think we should groan about going to history class. History class is where you go to learn a story and sometimes it best told through the voice and drawings of those who experienced it first hand.