Reading Rockets recommends the following books by Peter Sís.
A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North
Fact and fantasy combine in this intricately illustrated story about Jan Welzl, a Czech folk hero who traveled to the Arctic from Eastern Europe. Welzl lived for a time with Eskimos and worried about their peaceful lifestyle when gold was found. Sophisticated, highly detailed illustrations combine with a straightforward text to present a memorable tall tale.
A young ballerina dons different colored clothes from her trunk as she dances joyfully. The reader sees the little girl view herself in a mirror and also on the opposing page as she imagines herself as a prima ballerina in different ballets. Rhythmic language captures the joy of dance to enhance the uncluttered illustrations.
When a boy’s toy dinosaurs come to life, a whole new world is created in his bathtub. No words are needed as the adventure grows and then recedes when his mother brings him back to the real world. Black lines on crisp white pages effectively convey the child’s fantasy and his reality. Dinosaur names appear on the endpaper to the book.
Fire trucks fascinate Matt, so much so that he starts and ends his day thinking about them. When he imagines actually becoming one, he zooms around to put out fire and save his community actually in his house and is brought back to being a little boy by the cozy smell of pancakes. Crisp black lines with touches of red are used in this imaginative excursion, which also invites readers to count related objects from one to ten. The boy has another imaginative adventure in Trucks Trucks Trucks (1998) where trucks that haul, lift, and more grow in size in his room.
Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus
Events in Columbus’ life that led up to his now renowned voyage are effectively and briefly portrayed. While the text is informative and engaging, it is the intricate illustrations, some reminiscent of 15th century motifs, that distinguishes this handsome book.
Madlenka's tooth is loose and she wants to tell the world. She takes the reader around the block to meet her neighbors. Looking at the images and memories they have carried from old country to new, we can see that Madlenka's block is as richly varied as its inhabitants.
Madlenka Soccer Star
Madlenka dreams of being a soccer star in this third book about the city-dwelling girl. She leaves home in her soccer togs playing imaginary games until she's joined by one friend and then a team full of children. A note about soccer history concludes the book.
When Madlenka walks her imaginary dog on a red leash, adult friends in the neighborhood remember their own dogs. Madlenka’s young friend, Cleopatra, with her imaginary horse, joins the fanciful play before each girl returns home. Dye cuts and flaps are used to focus the eye and differentiate real from imagined in this unique jaunt around a city block. Fans of Madlenka (2000) will not be disappointed in her latest adventure.
Play, Mozart, Play!
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was not only a famous composer and a musical genius; his father turned him into a child sensation! Limited language but rich, detailed, and varied illustrations introduce the essence of the boy and his music.
All the other kids have pirate costumes for their adventures while the narrator has one like Robinson Crusoe. When teased about it, he heads to his bedroom where he dreams he is marooned on an island, savoring the solitary adventure until his friends return. Signature illustrations are evocative, detailed, and delicate, accompanied by brief but effective narration.
Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei
The complicated, sometimes disconcerting life of Galileo is presented in a multi-faceted, intricately illustrated, completely original biography. Differing typefaces combine with illustrations in various styles to create an informative, engaging, and unusual glimpse of the man and his genius.
The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin
Above all else, Charles Darwin was an independent thinker whose work still influences views of the natural world. The Tree of Life begins with Darwin’s childhood and traces the arc of his life from his university studies to his early professional pursuits. The book continues through the voyage of the Beagle to the Galapagos Islands, and concludes with Darwin’s return home for a quiet life devoted to science and family. Sís’s pictures drawn in fine pen and ink, along with lush watercolors create a visual treasure trove that makes Darwin’s journey come alive.
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
Growing up in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, Sis craved Western pop culture, subverted authority in small ways, and maintained a strong fear of the secret police. This title won the Sibert medal for distinctive non-fiction for children.
Books illustrated by Peter Sís
"The city lights/ up at night./ Going./Glowing./ Yellow/ Bright!" A family sets out for a nighttime jaunt to a street fair, against city skies that deepen from blue twilight to midnight blue, and a city skyline of clock tower, highrises, warehouses. Pictures of the crowded fair lose the family in a sea of puppet shows, magicians, musicians and clowns in a panorama that is magical and timeless. A quiet tucking in as the family comes home brings the city back to the present and familiar.
Stories to Solve: Folktales from Around the World
As this book shows, brain teasers are popular everywhere! The short tales, riddles, and more are from many different countries. Readers try to figure out how the solution was found. The answers are provided and some are even embedded in decorative black and white line drawings.
The Whipping Boy
Prince Brat is a well-earned nickname; the rude, selfish royal even has a commoner to take his licks which happen daily. The prince decides to run away, taking Jemmy with him where adventures ensue and a friendship evolves. This is reminiscent of Twain's Prince and the Pauper though clearly for younger readers.
Thirteenth Floor: A Ghost Story
After their parents' death, 12-year old Bud is in the custody of his sister. Faced with the prospect of selling their family home to repay debts, Bud and Liz go back in time to find help and to save a ancestor accused of being a witch. And it all starts on the 13th floor
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