Skip to main content
Select Source:

Sís, Peter 1949-

Sís, Peter 1949-

Personal

Born May 11, 1949, in Brno, Moravia, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic); immigrated to United States, 1982, naturalized citizen, 1989; son of Vladimir (a filmmaker and explorer) and Alena (an artist) Sís; married Terry Lajtha (a film editor), October 28, 1990; children: Madeleine, Matej. Education: Academy of Applied Arts (Prague, Czechoslovakia), M.A., 1974; attended Royal College of Art (London, England), 1977-78.

Addresses

Home—New York, NY.

Career

Artist, animator, illustrator, stage designer, and writer. Worked as a disc jockey while in art school. Teacher of art classes at schools in Los Angeles, CA, and New York, NY. Exhibitions: Group shows include Interama, Berlin, Germany, 1975; Best of British Illustrators, London, England, 1979; Magical Mystery Tour, Los Angeles, CA, 1982; Expo Art and Metropole, Montréal, Québec, Canada, 1984; Bienalle of Illustrations, Japan, 1985; University of Oregon School of Art, Portland, OR, 1986; International Gallery, San Diego, CA, 1986; Henry Feiwel Gallery, New York, NY, 1990-91; Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, Holland, 1992; Santa Monica Heritage Museum, Santa Monica, CA, 1992-93; New York Public Library, New York, NY, 1994; Gallery MB ART, Stuttgart, Germany, 1995; Storyopolis, Los Angeles, 1996; Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA, 1996-97; Salon du Livre de Jeunesse, Montreuil-Paris, France, 1997-98; Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY, 1998; International Youth Library, Blutenburg Castle, Munich, Germany, 1998; Okresni Muzeum a Galerie, Jicin, Czech Republic, 1998; Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts, Chicago, IL, 1998; Bohemian Gallery, Astoria-Queens, New York, NY, 1998; "Le immagini della fantasia," Sarmede, Italy, 1998-99; Salon du Livre de Jeunesse, Montreuil-Paris, 1998-99; Tibet House, New York, NY, 1998-99. One-man shows at Gallery Klostermauer, St. Gallen, Switzerland, 1975; Gallery Ploem, Delft, Netherlands, 1977; Gallery Martinska, 1977, and Gallery Rubin, 1979, both in Prague, Czechoslovakia; Gallery Vista Nova, Zurich, Switzerland, 1980; Gallery Medici, London, 1980; Ohio University School of Art, Athens, OH, 1990; Gallery Zeta, Olten, Switzerland, 1990; New York Public Library, 1992; James Cummins Gallery, New York, NY, 1994; Gallery Paseka, Prague, 1995; International Youth Library, Blutenburg Castle, Munich, 1995; Swiss Children's Book Institute and Johanna Spyri Foundation, Zurich, Switzerland, 1995-96; Books & Co., New York, NY, 1996; Salon du Livre de Jeunesse, Montreuil-Paris, 1996-97; Prage Castle-Riding School, Prague, 1997-98; Embassy of the Czech Republic in collaboration with Smithsonian Associates, Washington, DC, 1999. Military service: Czechoslovak Army, graphic designer with army's symphony orchestra, 1975-76.

Member

Association Internationale du Film d'Animation, American Institute of Graphic Arts, Graphic Artists Guild.

Awards, Honors

Golden Bear Award for best short film, Berlin International Film Festival, 1980, for Heads; Grand Prix Toronto, 1981, for short film Players; CINÉ Golden Eagle Award, Council on International Non-Theatrical Events, 1983, for You Gotta Serve Somebody; Ten Best Illustrated Children's Books for the Year citation, New York Times, 1987, for Rainbow Rhino, 1990, for Beach Ball, 1991, for Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus, 1993, for Komodo!, 1994, for The Three Golden Keys, for The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist and Thinker, and for The Wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain; Gold Medal, Society of Illustrators, 1993, for Komodo!; Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for Picture Books, 1993, for Komodo!, and 1994, for A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North; Silver Medal, Society of Illustrators, 1994, for The Three Golden Keys; Caldecott Honor Book, American Library Association (ALA), 1997, for Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei, 1999, for Tibet: Through the Red Box, and 2008, for The Wall; Notable Books for Children citation, ALA, 1999, for Fire Truck, Tibet, The Tree of Life, and The Wall; Children's Books of Distinction, Riverbank Review, and Boston Globe/Horn Book Special Citation, both 1999, both for Tibet; MacArthur fellow, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 2003; Ragazzi Nonfiction Award, International Bologna Children's Book Fair, 2004, Best Books for Young Adults selection, ALA, and Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children, National Science Teacher's Association/Children's Book Council, all for The Tree of Life; Best Books for Young Adults selection, ALA, 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection, New York Public Library, Notable Books for a Global Society, International Reading Association, Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council, and Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, all 2008, all for The Wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain.

Writings

SELF-ILLUSTRATED

Rainbow Rhino, Random House (New York, NY), 1987.

Waving: A Counting Book, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.

Going Up!: A Color Counting Book, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.

Beach Ball, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.

An Ocean World, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.

Komodo!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.

A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.

The Three Golden Keys, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1994.

Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1996.

Fire Truck, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1998.

Tibet: Through the Red Box, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.

Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

Ship Ahoy!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

Faust, Carl Hanser Verlag (Munich, Germany), 1999, translated by Randall Jarrell, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.

Dinosaur!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2000.

Madlenka, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.

Ballerina!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2001.

Madlenka's Dog, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2002.

The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist and Thinker, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.

The Train of States, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2004.

Play, Mozart, Play!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2006.

The Wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.

ILLUSTRATOR

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Albatros (Prague, Czech Republic), Volume 1, 1976, Volume 2, 1977.

Eveline Hasler, Hexe Lakritze und der Buchstabenkoenig, Benziger (Zurich, Switzerland), 1977.

Zizkov Romances, CSS (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1978.

Eveline Hasler, Hexe Lakritze und Rhino Rhinoceros, Benziger (Zurich, Switzerland), 1979.

Poetry, CSS (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1980.

Milos Maly, reteller, Tales of the Amber Ring (Baltic fairy tales), Artia (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1981, Orbis (London, England), 1985.

Max Bolliger, Eine Zwergengeschichte (title means "Little Singer"), Bohem (Zurich, Switzerland), 1982.

George Shannon, Bean Boy, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.

George Shannon, Stories to Solve: Folktales from around the World, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1985.

Sid Fleischman, The Whipping Boy, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986, reissued, HarperTrophy (New York, NY), 2003.

Julia Cunningham, Oaf, Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.

Caron Lee Cohen, Three Yellow Dogs, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.

Myra Cohn Livingston, Higgledy-Piggledy: Verses and Pictures, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.

Jean and Claudio Marzollo, Jed and the Space Bandits, Dial (New York, NY), 1987.

Monica Mayper, After Good-Night, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

Eve Rice, City Night, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.

Sid Fleischman, The Scarebird, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.

Kate Banks, Alphabet Soup, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.

Caroline Feller Bauer, editor, Halloween: Stories and Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.

Sid Fleischman, The Ghost in the Noonday Sun, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.

Louis Decimus Rubin, The Algonquin Literary Quiz Book, Algonquin (Chapel Hill, NC), 1990.

Sid Fleischman, The Midnight Horse, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

George Shannon, More Stories to Solve: Fifteen Folktales from around the World, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

Jack Prelutsky, The Dragons Are Singing Tonight, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.

George Shannon, Still More Stories to Solve: Fourteen Folktales from around the World, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1994.

Christopher Noel, adapter, Rumpelstiltskin (with audiocassette), Rabbit Ears Books (Rowayton, CT), 1995.

Sid Fleischman, The 13th Floor: A Ghost Story, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.

Jack Prelutsky, Monday's Troll, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.

Miriam Schlein, Sleep Safe, Little Whale: A Lullaby, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1997.

(With Cliff Nelson) Madeleine L'Engle, Many Waters, Bantam (New York, NY), 1998.

Jack Prelutsky, The Gargoyle on the Roof, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

José Saramago, The Tale of the Unknown Island, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1999.

William Nicholson, The Wind Singer, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.

William Nicholson, Slaves of the Mastery, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.

Jacques Taravant, The Little Wing Giver, translated by Nina Ignatowicz, Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

Jack Prelutsky, Scranimals, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2002.

William Nicholson, Firesong, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Mary Chase, The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

Diane Ackerman, Animal Sense, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

Max Bollinger, The Happy Troll, translated by Nina Ignatowicz, Holt (New York, NY), 2005.

Carlos María Domínguez, The House of Paper, translated by Nick Caistor, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.

Contributor of illustrations to American Illustration, New York Times, New York Times Book Review, Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsweek, House & Garden, Esquire, Forbes, Connoisseur, and Print.

SHORT FILMS

Mimikry, Academy of Applied Arts (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1975.

Island for 6,000 Alarm Clocks, Kratky Film (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1977.

Heads, Kratky Film (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1979.

Players, Halas & Batchelor (London, England), 1981.

Hexe Lakritze (ten parts; title means "Little Witch Licorice"), televised in Zurich, Switzerland, 1982.

You Gotta Serve Somebody, Fine Arts (Los Angeles, CA), 1983.

Aesop's Fables (two films), Helicon Video, 1984.

Twelve Months, Billy Budd Films, 1985.

Rumpelstiltskin, Rabbit Ears Productions (Rowayton, CT), 1992.

Heads and Island for 6,000 Alarm Clocks are part of the permanent film collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY.

OTHER

Also creator of CD-ROM "Eskimo Welzl," about the Czechoslovakian inventor, storyteller, adventurer, and explorer Jan Welzl. Creator of posters for theater, film, institutions, and festivals, including film Amadeus, Metropolitan Transportation Authorities in New York City, Children's Book Council, and International Jazz Festival in Rennes, France. Contributor to periodicals, including Print and Parade.

Adaptations

Starry Messenger was recorded on audio cassette by Recorded Books (Prince Frederick, MD), 1997. Tibet: Through the Red Box was adapted by David Henry Hwang as Tibet through the Red Box: A Drama for Young People, performed at Seattle Children's Theatre (Seattle, WA), 2004, and published by Playscripts, Inc. (New York, NY), 2006.

Sidelights

Peter Sís is a distinguished illustrator and writer recognized internationally for his contributions to children's literature. Since the mid-1970s, he has made more than half a dozen short films, illustrated many books for other authors, and written more than twenty self-illustrated children's books, including such award-winning titles as Komodo!, Tibet: Through the Red Box, and The Wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain. In 2003 Sís received a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," becoming the first illustrator to receive that honor. Stephen Fraser, writing in Five Owls, noted that Sís "remains one of the truly distinctive picture-book creators today—quirky, sophisticated, and imaginative."

Born into an artistic family in 1949, Sís grew up in Czechoslovakia at a time when the former Soviet Union ruled his homeland. Because both of his parents were artists (his father was a filmmaker and explorer and his mother, an artist), Sís was surrounded by art as a child. As early as age four or five, Sís began drawing pictures, and within a few years, he became quite serious about his craft. "I was already illustrating regularly by the time I was eight or nine," Sís once told SATA. "My father and my mother would give me certain assignments, and I remember I would even have deadlines." Sís credits his parents with providing an appropriate environment to foster his growth as an artist. His talents flourished in an atmosphere that balanced creative freedom with a certain amount of structure and discipline. Above all, he was challenged intellectually as a youth by his parents.

When he had reached his early teens, Sís was convinced that he wanted to pursue a career as a professional artist. Once in formal art school, however, Sís began to experience some frustration in his quest. His family's interest in contemporary art clashed with the traditional ideals of formal artistic training. In spite of these difficulties, Sís earned his master's degree from the

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

Academy of Applied Arts in Prague in 1974 and later attended the Royal College of Art in London, England. He credits his so-called "soft technique," which is still evident in his works, to his traditional art education.

Sís first became involved with animated films in the 1960s, and he cites famous Czech illustrator, animator, and teacher Jiri Trnka as an important role model. By the early 1980s, Sís was already a popular artist and filmmaker in Europe. "Film for me was the passport to the whole world," he once told SATA. His short animated film Heads earned the Golden Bear at the 1980 Berlin International Film Festival. He was then invited to design and paint illustrations for a Swiss television series called Hexe Lakritze ("Little Witch Licorice"). Sís also worked on another film in London. Then, in 1982, he traveled to Los Angeles—the site of the 1984 Olympic Games—to do a film that tied in the theme of the liberation of humanity with the Olympics. However, following the Soviet Union's decision to boycott the 1984 Olympics, other eastern and central European countries, including Czechoslovakia, also withdrew from the competition. The Olympic film project was canceled, but Sís remained in Los Angeles to pursue his career in art.

At first, Sís found life on the West Coast quite challenging. As he once explained to SATA, "It was very hard to find my way around in Los Angeles because all of a sudden things were completely different than what I was used to in Europe—the palm trees and lifestyle and everything. I felt completely misplaced and strange." Although Sís had difficulty obtaining film and illustration jobs, he did find work teaching classes in illustration in Los Angeles. In addition, he illustrated two of Aesop's fables for television.

At about the same time, Sís took the advice of a friend who suggested that he send a sample of his work to famous American children's writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak. Sís never expected to get a response, but Sendak was impressed enough with the young artist's work to call him personally and discuss his career aspirations. Several months later, Sendak called again while attending the 1984 American Library Association convention, which was held in Los Angeles. He invited Sís to join him at the convention and introduced him to Ava Weiss, art director of Greenwillow Books, a New York City-based publisher. Sís broke into the American book illustration market on the spot, agreeing to illustrate George Shannon's Bean Boy.

Following Bean Boy and a move to New York City, Sís illustrated two more books for Greenwillow, Sid Fleischman's juvenile novel The Whipping Boy, which won the Newbery Medal in 1985, and Stories to Solve: Folktales from around the World, by Shannon. Not long afterwards, Sís became a regular contributor of illustrations to the New York Times Book Review and began to write and illustrate his own work. His first self-illustrated work, Rainbow Rhino, was listed among the New York Times top ten best illustrated children's books of 1987.

By 1991, Sís was well-known in the children's book industry. He had already illustrated almost two dozen works by other authors and created six original works, including the well-received Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus. School Library Journal contributor Jean H. Zimmerman deemed Follow the Dream a "fascinating artistic representation of the discovery of the New World." Excitement surrounding this work stemmed partly from the 500-year anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America and partly from Sís's experimentation with both color and composition. Using oil colors on special plaster-like backgrounds, the artist achieved a textured, authentic old-world look recalling fifteenth-century paintings. Sís was inspired in part by his continuing fascination with his father's exploration and travels and his own journey from a Soviet-dominated country to the new world. As he once explained to SATA, "I realized coincidental things with my own life or with somebody who wants to break free from certain situations. With determination and persistence, a person can do it."

In The Wall an award-winning autobiographical work, Sís describes life in Czechoslovakia under Communist rule, incorporating black-and-white drawings, period photographs, and excerpts from his childhood journals. According to New York Times Book Review contributor Leonard Marcus, "The story unfolds in a word-and-picture montage consisting of a spare, fable-like narrative, introductory and closing notes, a historical timeline, diary excerpts, childhood drawings, family photos and, at the center of it all, a sequence of playful but intense pen-line drawings, many of them arrayed in storyboard panels." Booklist reviewer Jennifer Mattson observed that the work would appeal to teen readers "who will grasp both the history and the passionate, youthful rebellions against authority," and Wendy Lukehart, writing in School Library Journal, concluded that, "complex, multifaceted, rich in detail, this book shares the artist's specific heritage while connecting to universal longings."

During the 1990s, other of Sís's works also met with success, such as Komodo!, the story of boy who travels to Indonesia to visit a famous dragon, and A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North, a story based on the Czech legend of traveler Jan Welzl. He added to his repertoire The Three Golden Keys, published in 1994. In this fairy tale, a young man is led by a cat through the city of Prague to find his childhood home, and eventually, the three keys that help him enter it. Writing and illustrating The Three Golden Keys proved to be quite intriguing for Sís, and critics and readers alike applauded the book. While School Library Journal contributor Julie Cummins felt the work was suited more for older children and adults, she decided that, overall, "the book is intriguing, with visual and textual subtleties interconnecting with cultural and historical ties." Mary M. Burns, commenting in Horn Book, also categorized the book as one for an older audience, but praised The Three Golden Keys for its "dazzling design, opulent production, [and] meticulous execution," not to mention its "elegantly crafted, breathtaking fine line illustrations."

Turning his attention to biography once again, Sís wrote and illustrated Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei, which the American Library Association named a Caldecott Honor Book in 1997. Like Christopher Columbus in Follow the Dream, Galileo set out to prove that the Earth was not what people thought it was—in this case the center of the universe. Unlike Columbus, however, the famous astronomer could only prove his assertion with theories. In this picture book, Sís conveys the finer and darker periods of Galileo's life, alternating simple descriptions in large type for younger readers with more detailed notes in smaller type for older ones. Reviewing this work in the New York Times Book Review, Elizabeth Spires commended Sís on how he "manages to tell the relatively complicated story of Galileo in such a simple, straightforward way, accompanied by some of the most gorgeous illustrations imaginable." Wendy Lukehart, writing in School Library Journal, added that the "pathos, the painstaking copies of Galileo's famous sketches of the heavens, and the attention to current scholarship make this book a fascinating find."

Sís wrote about the adventures of another explorer—this time his father—in Tibet. In the 1950s, the Chinese government recruited Vladimir Sís to record on film the construction of the first highway leading from China into Tibet. While fulfilling his duties, Sís's father witnessed the horrors of China's invasion of Tibet, which act ultimately led to the removal of the Dalai Lama. It was during this two-year period away from home that Vladimir kept a diary. When he returned home, the filmmaker kept the diary locked in a red box, passing on stories about his journey orally to son Peter. In 1994, Vladimir wrote a note to his son saying the diary was his. Sís, in turn, decided to share his father's diary and oral tales with the world by creating a "groundbreaking, creative" picture book, as described by School Library Journal contributor Shirley Wilton. Reviewing Tibet, a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the "luminous colors of the artwork, the panoramas of Tibetan topography and the meticulous intermingling of captivating details … make this an extraordinary volume." Caldecott Medal committee members also thought the book was extraordinary, awarding the work a Caldecott Honor in 1999.

Also published in 1998 was Sís's picture book for preschoolers, Fire Truck. In this short story, a young boy wakes up to find that he has become a fire truck. He revels in his newly formed body until the smell of pancakes brings him back to reality. "Sís blends simple text with bold pictures to give insight into one boy's vivid imagination," wrote Torrie Hodgson in School Library Journal. Two more works that feature vehicles of interest to many children are Sís's Ship Ahoy! and Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, both of which also use imaginative constructs. In Ship Ahoy!, a little boy envisions the blue carpet beneath him as a sea and imagines himself in various vessels. Only a sea monster—in the form of his mother's vacuum cleaner entering his bedroom—jolts the boy back. Dinosaur! continues in this same vein, featuring a boy in the bathtub with his toy dinosaur, who suddenly begins to multiply. The tub becomes a primeval pond, and the growing number of dinosaurs then become land creatures. All told, thirteen different prehistoric creatures are depicted, with a glossary at the close. "This imaginative story with wonderful end-papers naming the creatures should appeal to all young dinosaur lovers," remarked JoAnn Jonas in a School Library Journal review of Dinosaur! In Ballerina! little Terry looks into the mirror and imagines herself in some of classical dance's greatest roles. Her costume changes—a towel added, or a scarf—become full-fledged ensembles on the alternate page, where the various aspects of dance—a twirl, the leap—are illustrated for readers. "Sís once again creates a beautifully realized, spot-on view of creative kids at play," commented Booklist critic Gillian Engberg.

One's of Sís's more notable collaborations has been with children's poet Jack Prelutsky, a pairing which be- gan in 1993 with The Dragons Are Singing Tonight. A follow-up effort, The Gargoyle on the Roof, contains poems about werewolves, vampires, trolls, gremlins, and other horrific creatures, but with a lighthearted tone—how does a vampire shave, for example, when he cannot see his own reflection in the mirror? "Sís's cross-hatched oil-and-gouache paintings extend the poems, working especially well to catch the sinister and frightening mood," wrote Booklist reviewer Susan Dove Lempke.

"The meisters of madcap are at it again," a reviewer wrote in Publishers Weekly when Sís and Prelutsky's fourth collaboration, Scranimals, appeared. In Scranimals, described as the duo's "best collaboration to date" by School Library Journal reviewer Nina Lindsay, the two imagine a world full of crosses between animals and vegetables—such genetic wonders as the Hippopotamushroom, the Orangutangerine, and the Potatoad. Working with black ink and water color, Sís creates "hallucinogenic art" that "takes Prelutsky's ever-clever comic verses in new directions," claimed a critic in Kirkus Reviews.

Sís also contributed images to The Tale of the Unknown Island, a story by Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning writer José Saramago. The work is a fairy tale for adults that centers on a sailor who finds himself a favorite of the monarch. He tells the king that if he is given a ship, he will search for the unknown island, a place that does not appear on any map. A cleaning woman from the royal household decides to accompany him, and the next morning, after a night in port, they christen their vessel The Unknown Island.

Sís began a new series for young readers with Madlenka, about a spirited little girl living in New York City. When she realizes that her tooth is about to fall out, Madlenka ventures out onto her block to announce the news to her neighbors. The city's vibrant immigrant culture is the focus of the story, with Madlenka introducing her friends—including a Latin greengrocer, an Indian owner of a news kiosk, and an Italian ice-cream vendor—while the opposing page showing elements of each person's respective culture or homeland. In the end, she has lost the tooth and returns to her worried parents with the blithe assurance that she was merely taking a global walk. Readers, predicted School Library Journal reviewer Wendy Lukehart, "will pore over the many details, delighting in the emergence of forms and meaning provided by close inspection," while Engberg commended Sís's "visually stunning spreads."

In Madlenka's Dog the girl is again wandering her multicultural neighborhood. This time, she is walking her imaginary dog, an activity that causes the people she meets to reminisce about their own childhood pets. These "resonant intergenerational connections," Roger Sutton wrote in Horn Book, "make [Madlenka's Dog] an inspired choice for sharing." When Madlenka bumps into her friend Cleopatra, who is out walking her own

imaginary pet, a horse, "the fantasy explodes into beautiful wordless spreads of the two friends soaring through the imagined worlds of their games," explained Engberg. They roam through ancient Egypt, medieval Europe, and the Arctic before Madlenka returns home to find a special surprise awaiting her.

In The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist, and Thinker, Sís offers a biography of the nineteenth-century British scientist who proposed a theory of evolution based on the process of natural selection that he outlined in his 1859 work On the Origin of Species. In an interview with Publishers Weekly contributor Elizabeth Devereaux, Sís maintained that The Tree of Life is "not a book about evolution, it's not about natural selection. It's about a man who sees things differently, how he has this personal fight with his conscience: ‘Can I do it? Can I publish my theory?’" The Tree of Life "succeeds brilliantly in arresting and educating the eye," wrote Daria Donnelly in the New York Times Book Review. "Using a very limited but appealing range of hues, tones and geometric shapes, Sís … invites calm and slow movement through his text." "Beautifully conceived and executed, the presentation is a humorous and information tour de force that will absorb and challenge readers," wrote Margaret Bush in School Library Journal, and Horn Book reviewer Betty Carter stated, "The detailed illustrations and narrative complexities demand of readers the same process Darwin set for himself: observe carefully, make connections, and learn."

Inspired by a visit to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, Sís produced The Train of States, "a browser's ticket for a cross-country journey and a treat for trivia lovers everywhere," noted Laurie Edwards in School Library Journal. Sís depicts each of the fifty United States as a brightly decorated circus wagon, adorned with symbolic images such as the state bird, motto, and tree. "Sís's abundant wit shines through each line-and-watercolor painting," Sutton commented, and Michael Cart, writing in Booklist, observed that the "whimsical images" on the wagons "command attention and invite endless, wondering reexamination." Though New York Times Book Review critic Bruno Navasky noted a certain sameness to "the procession of facts," he also praised the illustrations, stating, "Every child who can point out the mouse in Goodnight Moon or who delights in showing us where Waldo is will love the treasures tucked away on each page of this book."

Famed eighteenth-century classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is the subject of Play, Mozart, Play!, another well-received picture-book biography. Sís focuses on Mozart's childhood, when he first displayed his prodigious talents, and his relationship with his domineering father. "The tousled, titian-haired young musician is a wide-eyed and sympathetic visual focus," Sutton wrote, and Kate McClelland, reviewing Play, Mozart, Play! in School Library Journal, remarked that Sís presents the "world master to children in a way that is emotionally resonant, easily understood, and remarkably indelible."

Sís once told SATA that through his work, he aims to cultivate free and open thought among children. He firmly believes that an artist's work should challenge a child's imagination. Especially intriguing to him is the wonder and innocence of early elementary-school students. "I really like talking to second graders," he said. "The young kids are wonderful because their minds are completely open. And the feelings children have here are probably the same as children have all over the world. It's amazing to see—in Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, or wherever—how similar the children are, whether they play with a piece of wood, or they play with a very sophisticated computer."

Sís also added: "I think children should have choices, and I would like to participate in their growth." Indeed, he advises young readers who aspire to a career as an artist to persevere and "not be intimidated by anybody." Sís believes that artistic talent should develop naturally, and that young people should be left to "create freely—without any pressure to achieve commercial success."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Children's Literature Review, Volume 45, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Cummins, Julie, editor, Children's Book Illustration and Design, Library of Design, PBC International/Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1992.

Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, December 1, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Three Golden Keys, p. 687; January 15, 1995, Michael Cart, review of The Three Golden Keys, p. 907; October 1, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of The 13th Floor: A Ghost Story, p. 314; October 15, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei, p. 423; April 15, 1996, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Monday's Troll, p. 1437; November 15, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Sleep Safe, Little Whale: A Lullaby, p. 567; September 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Tibet: Through the Red Box, p. 195, and Kathleen Squires, review of Fire Truck, p. 240; June 1, 1999, Kathy Broderick, review of Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, p. 1844; September 1, 1999, Lauren Peterson, review of Ship Ahoy!, p. 143; October 1, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Gargoyle on the Roof, p. 355; March 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Dinosaur!, p. 1389; September 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Madlenka, p. 126; April 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Ballerina!, p. 1480; February 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Scranimals, p. 237; April 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Madlenka's Dog, p. 1323; February 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Animal Sense, p. 1068; October 15, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist, and Thinker, p. 408; October 15, 2004, Michael Cart, review of The Train of States, p. 405; September 1, 2007, Jennifer Mattson, "Peter Sís" (interview), p. 62, and review of The Wall: Growing up behind the Iron Curtain, p. 72.

Commonweal, April 19, 2002, Daria Donnelly, review of The Little Wing Giver, p. 22.

Five Owls, May-June, 1993, Stephen Fraser, review of Komodo!, pp. 113-114.

Horn Book, September-October, 1991, Ellen Fader, review of Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus, pp. 614-615; January-February, 1994, Ellen Fader, review of A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North, p. 66; March-April, 1995, Mary M. Burns, review of The Three Golden Keys, pp. 189-190; May- June, 1996, Ann A. Flowers, review of Monday's Troll, p. 345; January-February, 1997, Roger Sutton, review of Starry Messenger, pp. 79-80; March-April, 1998, Peter Sís, "Tiny Pieces of Paint"; September-October, 1998, Marilyn Bousquin, review of Fire Truck, pp. 601-602; November, 1998, Roger Sutton, review of Tibet, p. 719; May, 1999, Marilyn Bousquin, review of Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, p. 322; September, 1999, Lolly Robinson, review of Ship Ahoy!, p. 601; July, 2000, review of Dinosaur!, p. 445; September, 2000, review of Madlenka, p. 558; March-April, 2002, Roger Sutton, review of Madlenka's Dog, pp. 205-206; November-December, 2003, Betty Carter, review of The Tree of Life, p. 768; July-August, 2006, Roger Sutton, review of Play, Mozart, Play!, p. 470; September-October, 2007, Roger Sutton, review of The Wall, p. 599.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of Madlenka's Dog, p. 345; July 15, 2002, review of Scranimals, p. 1042; September 15, 2003, review of The Tree of Life, p. 1182.

New York Times, December 6, 1996, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Starry Messenger, p. B3; October 13, 1998, Elisabeth Bumiller, "From Fathers to Children, a Twice-Told Tale," p. B2; December 2, 1998, Richard Bernstein, review of Tibet, p. E7; December 7, 1998, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Fire Truck, p. E7.

New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1987, Janwillem van de Wetering, review of Rainbow Rhino, p. 42; November 13, 1988, Liz Rosenberg, "Lonesome John Finds a Friend," p. 56; November 14, 1993, David Small, review of A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North, p. 34; November 13, 1994, Patricia Hampl, review of The Three Golden Keys, p. 34; June 2, 1996, Zack Rogow, review of Monday's Troll, p. 25; November 10, 1996, Elizabeth Spires, "Stars Were Always on His Mind," p. 32; December 3, 1998, Scott Veale, review of Tibet, p. 22; April 11, 1999, Heather Vogel Frederick, review of Fire Truck, p. 32; January 16, 2000, Linnea Lannon, review of The Gargoyle on the Roof, p. 27; May 14, 2000, J.D. Biersdorfer, review of Dinosaur!, p. 18; November 19, 2000, A.O. Scott, review of Madlenka, p. 67; June 3, 2001, Adam Liptak, review of Ballerina!, p. 49; May 19, 2002, Beth Gutcheon, review of Madlenka's Dog, p. 27; December 22, 2002, review of Scranimals, p. 18; November 16, 2003, Daria Donnelly, review of The Tree of Life, p. 20; November 14, 2004, Bruno Navasky, review of The Train of States, p. 40; November 11, 2007, Leonard S. Marcus, "The Cold War Kid," review of The Wall, p. 28.

Print, November-December, 1998, Julie Lasky, "Mythical Kingdoms," p. 104.

Publishers Weekly, August 10, 1990, review of Beach Ball, p. 443; October 11, 1993, review of The Dragons Are Singing Tonight, p. 88; November 7, 1994, review of The Three Golden Keys, p. 76; November 14, 1994, Sally Lodge, "Peter Sís Goes Home Again," p. 26; October 9, 1995, review of The 13th Floor, p. 86; March 11, 1996, review of Monday's Troll, p. 64; April 29, 1996, Paul Nathan, "Special Handling," p. 25; November 4, 1996, review of Starry Messenger, p. 76; August 10, 1998, review of Tibet, p. 365; August 17, 1998, Heather Vogel Frederick, "Peter Sís's Red Box Diaries: A Glimpse of Old Tibet," p. 13; April 26, 1999, review of Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, p. 81; July 5, 1999, review of The Gargoyle on the Roof, p. 71; July 19, 1999, review of Ship Ahoy!, p. 193; March 26, 2001, review of Ballerina!, p. 92; July 16, 2001, p. 146; September 24, 2001, review of The Little Wing Giver, p. 92; June 24, 2002, review of Scranimals, p. 54; December 16, 2002, review of Animal Sense, p. 67; October 13, 2003, Elizabeth Devereaux, "Discovering the World," interview with Sís, p. 78, and review of The Tree of Life, pp. 79-80; July 9, 2007, review of The Wall, p. 55.

School Library Journal, September, 1990, Michael Cart, review of The Midnight Horse, p. 226; September, 1991, Jean H. Zimmerman, review of Follow the Dream, p. 249; December, 1993, Julie Cummins, review of The Three Golden Keys, p. 87; October, 1996, Wendy Lukehart, review of Starry Messenger, p. 118; September, 1998, Torrie Hodgson, review of Fire Truck, p. 182; October, 1998, Shirley Wilton, review of Tibet, p. 160; June, 2000, JoAnn Jonas, review of Dinosaur!, p. 125; October, 2000, Wendy Lukehart, review of Madlenka, p. 137; December, 2000, John Peters, review of The Wind Singer, p. 146; April, 2001, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Ballerina!, p. 122; April, 2002, Lauralyn Persson, review of Madlenka's Dog, pp. 122-123; September, 2002, Nina Lindsay, review of Scranimals, p. 217; February, 2003, Lauralyn Persson, review of Animal Sense, p. 126; October, 2003, Margaret Bush, review of The Tree of Life, p. 204; November, 2004, Laurie Edwards, review of The Train of States, p. 130; May, 2006, Kate McClelland, review of Play, Mozart, Play!, p. 117; August, 2007, Wendy Lukehart, review of The Wall, p. 139.

ONLINE

Peter Sís Home Page,http://www.petersis.com (August 15, 2008).

Peter Sís Tibet Web Site,http://www.petersistibet.com/ (August 15, 2008).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sís, Peter 1949-." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Sís, Peter 1949-." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/sis-peter-1949-0

"Sís, Peter 1949-." Something About the Author. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/sis-peter-1949-0

Sís, Peter 1949-

SÍS, Peter 1949-

Personal

Born May 11, 1949, in Brno, Moravia, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic); immigrated to United States, 1982, naturalized citizen, 1989; son of Vladimir (a filmmaker and explorer) and Alena (an artist; maiden name, Petrvalska) Sís; married Terry Lajtha (a film editor), October 28, 1990; children: Madeleine, Matej. Education: Academy of Applied Arts (Prague, Czechoslovakia), M.A., 1974; attended Royal College of Art (London, England), 1977-78.

Addresses

Home New York. Agent c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 19 Union Square W., New York, NY 10003.

Career

Artist, animator, illustrator, stage designer, and writer. Worked as a disc jockey while in art school. Teacher of art classes at schools in Los Angeles, CA, and New York, NY. Exhibitions: Group shows include Interama, Berlin, Germany, 1975; Best of British Illustrators, London, England, 1979; Magical Mystery Tour, Los Angeles, CA, 1982; Expo Art and Metropole, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1984; Bienalle of Illustrations, Japan, 1985; University of Oregon School of Art, Portland, OR, 1986; International Gallery, San Diego, CA, 1986; Henry Feiwel Gallery, New York, 1990-91; Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, Holland, 1992; Santa Monica Heritage Museum, Santa Monica, CA, 1992-93; New York Public Library, New York, 1994; Gallery MB ART, Stuttgart, Germany, 1995; Storyopolis, Los Angeles, 1996; Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA, 1996-97; Salon du Livre de Jeunesse, Montreuil-Paris, France, 1997-98; Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY, 1998; International Youth Library, Blutenburg Castle, Munich, Germany, 1998; Okresni Muzeum a Galerie, Jicin, Czech Republic, 1998; Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts, Chicago, IL, 1998; Bohemian Gallery, Astoria-Queens, New York, 1998; "Le immagini della fantasia," Sarmede, Italy, 1998-99; Salon du Livre de Jeunesse, Montreuil-Paris, 1998-99; Tibet House, New York, 1998-99. One-man shows at Gallery Klostermauer, St. Gallen, Switzerland, 1975; Gallery Ploem, Delft, Netherlands, 1977; Gallery Martinska, 1977, and Gallery Rubin, 1979, both in Prague, Czechoslovakia; Gallery Vista Nova, Zurich, Switzerland, 1980; Gallery Medici, London, 1980; Ohio University School of Art, Athens, OH, 1990; Gallery Zeta, Olten, Switzerland, 1990; New York Public Library, New York, 1992; James Cummins Gallery, New York, 1994; Gallery Paseka, Prague, 1995; International Youth Library, Blutenburg Castle, Munich, 1995; Swiss Children's Book Institute and Johanna Spyri Foundation, Zurich, Switzerland, 1995-96; Books & Co., New York, 1996; Salon du Livre de Jeunesse, Montreuil-Paris, 1996-97; Prague Castle-Riding School, Prague, 1997-98; Embassy of the Czech Republic in collaboration with Smithsonian Associates, Washington, D.C., 1999. Military service: Czechoslovak Army, graphic designer with army's symphony orchestra, 1975-76.

Member

Association Internationale du Film d'Animation, American Institute of Graphic Arts, Graphic Artists Guild.

Awards, Honors

Golden Bear Award for best short film, Berlin International Film Festival, 1980, for Heads; Grand Prix Toronto, 1981, for short film Players; CINÉ Golden Eagle Award, Council on International Non-Theatrical Events, 1983, for You Gotta Serve Somebody; Ten Best Illustrated Children's Books for the Year citation, New York Times, 1987, for Rainbow Rhino, 1990, for Beach Ball, 1991, for Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus, 1993, for Komodo!, and 1994, for The Three Golden Keys; Gold Medal, Society of Illustrators, 1993, for Komodo!; Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award for Picture Books, 1993, for Komodo!, and 1994, for A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North; Silver Medal, Society of Illustrators, 1994, for The Three Golden Keys; Caldecott Honor Book, American Library Association (ALA), 1997, for Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei, and 1999, for Tibet: Through the Red Box; Notable Books for Children citation, ALA, 1999, for both Fire Truck and Tibet; Children's Books of Distinction, Riverbank Review, and Boston Globe-Horn Book Special Citation, both 1999, for Tibet; MacArthur Fellow, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 2003; Ragazzi Award, International Bologna Children's Book Fair, 2004, for The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist and Thinker.

Writings

AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR

Rainbow Rhino, Random House (New York, NY), 1987.

Waving: A Counting Book, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.

Going Up!: A Color Counting Book, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.

Beach Ball, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.

An Ocean World, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.

Komodo!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.

A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.

The Three Golden Keys, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1994.

Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 1996.

Fire Truck, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1998.

Tibet: Through the Red Box, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.

Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

Ship Ahoy!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

Faust, Carl Hanser Verlag (Munich, Germany), 1999, translated by Randall Jarrell, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.

Dinosaur!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2000.

Madlenka, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.

Ballerina!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2001.

Madlenka's Dog, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 2002.

The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist and Thinker, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.

Train of States, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2004.

ILLUSTRATOR

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Albatros (Prague, Czech Republic), Volume 1, 1976, Volume 2, 1977.

Eveline Hasler, Hexe Lakritze und der Buchstabenkoenig, Benziger (Zurich, Switzerland), 1977.

Zizkov Romances, CSS (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1978.

Eveline Hasler, Hexe Lakritze und Rhino Rhinoceros, Benziger (Zurich, Switzerland), 1979.

Poetry, CSS (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1980.

Milos Maly, reteller, Tales of the Amber Ring (Baltic fairy tales), Artia (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1981, Orbis (London, England), 1985.

Max Bolliger, Eine Zwergengeschichte (title means "Little Singer"), Bohem (Zurich, Switzerland), 1982.

George Shannon, Bean Boy, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.

George Shannon, Stories to Solve: Folktales from around the World, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1985.

Sid Fleischman, The Whipping Boy, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.

Julia Cunningham, Oaf, Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.

Caron Lee Cohen, Three Yellow Dogs, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.

Myra Cohn Livingston, Higgledy-Piggledy: Verses and Pictures, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.

Jean and Claudio Marzollo, Jed and the Space Bandits, Dial (New York, NY), 1987.

Monica Mayper, After Good-Night, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

Eve Rice, City Night, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.

Sid Fleischman, The Scarebird, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.

Kate Banks, Alphabet Soup, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.

Caroline Feller Bauer, editor, Halloween: Stories and Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.

Sid Fleischman, The Ghost in the Noonday Sun, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.

Louis Decimus Rubin, The Algonquin Literary Quiz Book, Algonquin (Chapel Hill, NC), 1990.

Sid Fleischman, The Midnight Horse, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

George Shannon, More Stories to Solve: Fifteen Folktales from around the World, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

Jack Prelutsky, The Dragons Are Singing Tonight, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.

George Shannon, Still More Stories to Solve: Fourteen Folktales from around the World, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1994.

Christopher Noel, adapter, Rumpelstiltskin (with audiocassette), Rabbit Ears Books (Rowayton, CT), 1995.

Sid Fleischman, The 13th Floor: A Ghost Story, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.

Jack Prelutsky, Monday's Troll, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.

Miriam Schlein, Sleep Safe, Little Whale: A Lullaby, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1997.

(With Cliff Nelson) Madeleine L'Engle, Many Waters, Bantam (New York, NY), 1998.

Jack Prelutsky, The Gargoyle on the Roof, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

José Saramago, The Tale of the Unknown Island, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1999.

William Nicholson, The Wind Singer, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.

William Nicholson, Slaves of the Mastery, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.

Jacques Taravant, The Little Wing Giver, translated by Nina Ignatowicz, Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

Jack Prelutsky, Scranimals, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2002.

William Nicholson, Firesong, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Mary Chase, The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

Diane Ackerman, Animal Sense, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor of illustrations to American Illustration, New York Times, New York Times Books Review, Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsweek, House & Garden, Esquire, Forbes, Connoisseur, and Print.

SHORT FILMS

Mimikry, Academy of Applied Arts (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1975.

Island for 6,000 Alarm Clocks, Kratky Film (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1977.

Heads, Kratky Film (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1979.

Players, Halas & Batchelor (London, England), 1981.

Hexe Lakritze (ten parts; title means "Little Witch Licorice"), televised in Zurich, Switzerland, 1982.

You Gotta Serve Somebody, Fine Arts (Los Angeles, CA), 1983.

Aesop's Fables (two films), Helicon Video, 1984.

Twelve Months, Billy Budd Films, 1985.

Rumpelstiltskin, Rabbit Ears Productions (Rowayton, CT), 1992.

Heads and Island for 6,000 Alarm Clocks are part of the permanent film collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY.

OTHER

Also creator of the CD-ROM "Eskimo Welzl" about the Czechoslovakian inventor, storyteller, adventurer, and explorer Jan Welzl. Creator of posters for theater, film, institutions, and festivals, including the film Amadeus, the Metropolitan Transportation Authorities in New York City, the Children's Book Council, and the International Jazz Festival in Rennes, France.

Adaptations

Starry Messenger was recorded on audio cassette by Recorded Books (Prince Frederick, MD), 1997.

Sidelights

Peter Sís is a distinguished illustrator and writer recognized internationally for his contributions to children's literature. Since the mid-1970s, he has made more than half a dozen short films, illustrated many books for other authors, and written several of his own self-illustrated children's books. Stephen Fraser, writing in Five Owls, noted that Sís "remains one of the truly distinctive picture-book creators todayquirky, sophisticated, and imaginative."

Born into an artistic family in 1949, Sís grew up in Czechoslovakia at a time when the former Soviet Union ruled his homeland. Because both of his parents were artists (his father was a filmmaker and explorer and his mother, an artist), Sís was surrounded by art as a child. As early as age four or five, Sís began drawing pictures, and within a few years, he became quite serious about his craft. "I was already illustrating regularly by the time I was eight or nine," Sís once told SATA. "My father and my mother would give me certain assignments, and I remember I would even have deadlines." Sís credits his parents with providing an appropriate environment to foster his growth as an artist. His talents flourished in an atmosphere that balanced creative freedom with a certain amount of structure and discipline. Above all, he was challenged intellectually as a youth by his parents.

When he had reached his early teens, Sís was convinced that he wanted to pursue a career as a professional artist. Once in formal art school, however, Sís began to experience some frustration in his quest. His family's interest in contemporary art clashed with the traditional ideals of formal artistic training. In spite of these difficulties, Sís earned his master's degree from the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague in 1974 and later attended the Royal College of Art in London, England. He credits his so-called "soft technique," which is still evident in his works, to his traditional art education.

Sís first became involved with animated films in the 1960s, and he considers famous Czechoslovakian illustrator, animator, and teacher Jiri Trnka to have been an important role model. By the early 1980s, Sís was already a popular artist and filmmaker in Europe. "Film for me was the passport to the whole world," he once told SATA. His short animated film Heads earned the Golden Bear at the 1980 Berlin International Film Festival. He was then invited to design and paint illustrations for a Swiss television series called Hexe Lakritze ("Little Witch Licorice"). Sís also worked on another film in London. Then, in 1982, he traveled to Los Angelesthe site of the 1984 Olympic Gamesto do a film that tied in the theme of the liberation of humanity with the Olympics. However, following the Soviet Union's decision to boycott the 1984 Olympics, other eastern and central European countries, including Czechoslovakia, also withdrew from the competition. The Olympic film project was canceled, but Sís remained in Los Angeles to pursue his career in art.

At first, Sís found life on the West Coast quite challenging. As he once explained to SATA, "It was very hard to find my way around in Los Angeles because all of a sudden things were completely different than what I was used to in Europethe palm trees and lifestyle and everything. I felt completely misplaced and strange." Although Sís had difficulty obtaining film and illustration jobs, he did find work teaching classes in illustration in Los Angeles. In addition, he illustrated two of Aesop's fables for television.

At about the same time, Sís took the advice of a friend who suggested that he send a sample of his work to famous American children's writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak. Sís never expected to get a response, but Sendak was impressed enough with the young artist's work to call him personally and discuss his career aspirations. Several months later, Sendak called again while attending the 1984 American Library Association convention, which was held in Los Angeles. He invited Sís to join him at the convention and introduced him to Ava Weiss, art director of Greenwillow Books, a New York City-based publisher. Sís broke into the American book illustration market on the spot, agreeing to illustrate George Shannon's Bean Boy.

Following Bean Boy and a move to New York City, Sís illustrated two more books for Greenwillow, Sid Fleischman's juvenile novel The Whipping Boy, which won the Newbery Medal in 1985, and Stories to Solve: Folktales from around the World, by Shannon. Not long afterwards, Sís became a regular contributor of illustrations to the New York Times Book Review and began to write and illustrate his own work. His first self-illustrated work, Rainbow Rhino, was listed among the New York Times top ten best illustrated children's books of 1987.

By 1991, Sís was well-known in the children's book industry. He had already illustrated almost two dozen works by other authors and created six of his own, including the well-received Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus. School Library Journal contributor Jean H. Zimmerman deemed Follow the Dream a "fascinating artistic representation of the discovery of the New World." Excitement surrounding this work stemmed partly from the 500-year anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America and partly from Sís's experimentation with both color and composition. Using oil colors on special plaster-like backgrounds, the artist achieved a textured, authentic old-world look of fifteenth-century paintings. Sís was inspired in part by his continuing fascination with his father's exploration and travels and his own journey from a Soviet-dominated country to the new world. He once explained to SATA, "I realized coincidental things with my own life or with somebody who wants to break free from certain situations. With determination and perSístence, a person can do it."

Over the next few years, Sís's works, such as Komodo!, the 1993 story of boy who travels to Indonesia to visit a famous dragon, and A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North, a story based on the Czech legend of traveler Jan Welzl, also met with success. He then added to his repertoire The Three Golden Keys, published in 1994. In this fairy tale, a young man is led by a cat through the city of Prague to find his childhood home, and eventually, the three keys that help him enter it. Writing and illustrating The Three Golden Keys proved to be quite intriguing for Sís, and critics and readers applauded the book. While School Library Journal contributor Julie Cummins felt the work was suited more for older children and adults, she decided that overall, "the book is intriguing, with visual and textual subtleties interconnecting with cultural and historical ties." Mary M. Burns, commenting in Horn Book, also categorized the book as one for an older audience, but praised the book for its "dazzling design, opulent production, [and] meticulous execution," not to mention its "elegantly crafted, breathtaking fine line illustrations."

Turning his attention to biography once again, Sís wrote and illustrated Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei, which the American Library Association named a Caldecott Honor Book in 1997. Like Christopher Columbus in Follow the Dream, Galileo set out to prove that the Earth was not what people thought it wasin this case the center of the universe. Unlike Columbus, however, the famous astronomer could only prove it with his theories. In this picture book, Sís conveys the finer and darker periods of Galileo's life, with simple descriptions in large type for younger readers and more detailed notes in smaller type for older ones. Reviewing this work in the New York Times Book Review, Elizabeth Spires commended Sís on how he "manages to tell the relatively complicated story of Galileo in such a simple, straightforward way, accompanied by some of the most gorgeous illustrations imaginable." Wendy Lukehart, writing in School Library Journal, added that the "pathos, the painstaking copies of Galileo's famous sketches of the heavens, and the attention to current scholarship make this book a fascinating find."

Sís wrote about the adventures of another explorerthis time his fatherin the 1998 work Tibet: Through the Red Box. In the 1950s, the Chinese government recruited Vladimir Sís to record on film the construction of the first highway leading from China into Tibet. While fulfilling his duties, Vladimir witnessed the horrors of China's invasion of Tibet, which ultimately led to the removal of the Dalai Lama. It was during this two-year period away from home that Vladimir kept a diary. When he returned home, the elder Sís kept the diary locked in a red box, passing on stories about his journey orally to his son. In 1994, Vladimir wrote a note to his son saying the diary was his. Sís, in turn, decided to share his father's diary and oral tales with the world by creating a "groundbreaking, creative" picture book, as described by School Library Journal contributor Shirley Wilton. Similarly, a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the "luminous colors of the artwork, the panoramas of Tibetan topography and the meticulous intermingling of captivating details . . . make this an extraordinary volume." Caldecott Medal committee members also thought the book was extraordinary, awarding the work a Caldecott Honor in 1999.

Also published in 1998 was Sís's picture book for preschoolers, Fire Truck. In this short story, a young boy wakes up to find that he has become a fire truck. He revels in his newly formed body until the smell of pancakes brings him back to reality. "Sís blends simple text with bold pictures to give insight into one boy's vivid imagination," wrote Torrie Hodgson in School Library Journal. Two more works that feature things of interest to many children are Sís's Ship Ahoy! and Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, both of which also use imaginative constructs. In Ship Ahoy!, a little boy envisions the blue carpet beneath him as a sea and imagines himself in various vessels. Only a sea monsterin the form of his mother's vacuum cleaner entering his roomjolts him back. Dinosaur! continues in this same vein, featuring a boy in the bathtub with his toy dinosaur, who suddenly begins to multiply. The tub becomes a primeval pond, and the growing number of dinosaurs then become land creatures. All told, thirteen different prehistoric creatures are depicted, with a glossary at the close. "This imaginative story with wonderful end-papers naming the creatures should appeal to all young dinosaur lovers," remarked JoAnn Jonas in School Library Journal. In Ballerina!, little Terry looks into the mirror and imagines herself in some of classical dance's greatest roles. Her costume changesa towel added, or a scarfbecome full-fledged ensembles on the alternate page, where the various aspects of dancea twirl, the leapare illustrated for readers. "Sís once again creates a beautifully realized, spot-on view of creative kids at play," commented Booklist 's Gillian Engberg.

One's of his more notable collaborations has been with children's poet Jack Prelutsky, a pairing which began in 1993 with The Dragons Are Singing Tonight. Its followup, The Gargoyle on the Roof, contains poems about werewolves, vampires, trolls, gremlins, and other horrific creatures, but with a lighthearted tonehow does a vampire shave, for example, when he cannot see his own reflection in the mirror? "Sís' cross-hatched oiland-gouache paintings extend the poems, working especially well to catch the sinister and frightening mood," wrote Booklist 's Susan Dove Lempke.

"The meisters of madcap are at it again," a reviewer wrote in Publishers Weekly when Sís and Prelutsky's fourth collaboration, Scranimals, appeared. In Scranimals, Prelutsky and Sís's "best collaboration to date" in the opinion of School Library Journal reviewer Nina Lindsay, the two imagine a world full of crosses between animals and vegetablessuch genetic wonders as the Hippopotamushroom, the Orangutangerine, and the Potatoad. Working with black ink and watercolors, Sís created "hallucinogenic art" that "takes Prelutsky's ever-clever comic verses in new directions," claimed a critic in Kirkus Reviews.

Sís also contributed images to The Tale of the Unknown Island, by a Portuguese Nobel Prize winner in literature, José Saramago. The work is a fairy tale for adults, centering upon a sailor who finds himself a favorite of the monarch. He tells the king that if he is given a ship, he will search for "the unknown island." Yes, he agrees, it does not appear on mapsand thus its name. A cleaning woman from the royal household decides to accompany him, and the next morning, after a night in port, they christen the vessel The Unknown Island.

Sís began a new series for young readers in 2000 with Madlenka, about a spirited little girl in New York City. When she realizes that her tooth is about to fall out, she ventures out onto her block to announce the news to her neighbors. The city's vibrant immigrant culture is the focus of the story, with Madlenka introducing her friendsthe Latin greengrocer, the Indian owner of a news kiosk, an Italian ice-cream vendorand the opposing page showing elements of their respective cultures or homelands. In the end, she has lost the tooth and returns to her worried parents with the blithe assurance that she was merely taking a global walk. Readers, predicted School Library Journal 's Wendy Lukehart, "will pore over the many details, delighting in the emergence of forms and meaning provided by close inspection," while Gillian Engberg, writing for Booklist, commended Sís's "visually stunning spreads."

In the follow-up, Madlenka's Dog, the girl is again wandering her multicultural neighborhood. This time, she is walking her imaginary dog, an activity that causes the people she meets to reminisce about their own childhood pets. These "resonant intergenerational connections," Roger Sutton wrote in Horn Book, "make [Madlenka's Dog ] an inspired choice for sharing." Then Madlenka bumps into her friend Cleopatra, who is out walking her own imaginary pet, a horse, and "the fantasy explodes into beautiful wordless spreads of the two friends soaring through the imagined worlds of their games," explained Booklist 's Gillian Engberg. They roam through ancient Egypt, medieval Europe, and the Arctic before Madlenka returns home to find a special surprise awaiting her.

Sís once told SATA that through his work, he aims to cultivate free and open thought among children. He firmly believes that an artist's work should challenge a child's imagination. Especially intriguing to him is the wonder and innocence of early elementary-school students. "I really like talking to second graders," he said. "The young kids are wonderful because their minds are completely open. And the feelings children have here are probably the same as children have all over the world. It's amazing to seein Asia, Thailand, Indonesia, or whereverhow similar the children are, whether they play with a piece of wood, or they play with a very sophisticated computer."

Sís also added: "I think children should have choices, and I would like to participate in their growth." Indeed, Sís advises young readers who aspire to a career as an artist to persevere and "not be intimidated by anybody." He believes that artistic talent should develop naturally, and a child should be left to "create freelywithout any pressure to achieve commercial success."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Children's Literature Review, Volume 45, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Cummins, Julie, editor, Children's Book Illustration and Design, Library of Design, PBC International/Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1992.

Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 15, 1991, p. 468; December 1, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Three Golden Keys, p. 687; January 15, 1995, Michael Cart, review of The Three Golden Keys, p. 907; October 1, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of The 13th Floor, p. 314; October 15, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei, p. 423; April 15, 1996, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Monday's Troll, p. 1437; November 15, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Sleep Safe, Little Whale: A Lullaby, p. 567; September 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Tibet: Through the Red Box, p. 195, and Kathleen Squires, review of Fire Truck, p. 240; June 1, 1999, Kathy Broderick, review of Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, p. 1844; September 1, 1999, Lauren Peterson, review of Ship Ahoy!, p. 143; October 1, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Gargoyle on the Roof, p. 355; March 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Dinosaur!, p. 1389; September 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Madlenka, p. 126; April 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Ballerina!, p. 1480; April 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Madlenka's Dog, p. 1323; January 1, 2003, review of Madlenka's Dog, p. 799; February 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Animal Sense, p. 1068; October 15, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist and Thinker, p. 408.

Commonweal, April 19, 2002, Daria Donnelly, review of The Little Wing Giver, p. 22.

Five Owls, September-October, 1991, pp. 1-3; May-June, 1993, Stephen Fraser, review of Komodo!, pp. 113-114.

Horn Book, September-October, 1991, Ellen Fader, review of Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus, pp. 614-615; January-February, 1994, Ellen Fader, review of A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North, p. 66; March-April, 1995, Mary M. Burns, review of The Three Golden Keys, pp. 189-190; May-June, 1996, Ann A. Flowers, review of Monday's Troll, p. 345; January-February, 1997, Roger Sutton, review of Starry Messenger, pp. 79-80; March-April, 1998, Peter Sís, "Tiny Pieces of Paint"; September-October, 1998, Marilyn Bousquin, review of Fire Truck, pp. 601-602; November, 1998, Roger Sutton, review of Tibet, p. 719; May, 1999, Marilyn Bousquin, review of Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, p. 322; September, 1999, Lolly Robinson, review of Ship Ahoy!, p. 601; July, 2000, review of Dinosaur!, p. 445; September, 2000, review of Madlenka, p. 558; March-April, 2002, Roger Sutton, review of Madlenka's Dog, pp. 205-206; November-December, 2003, Betty Carter, review of The Tree of Life, p. 768.

Journal News (Westchester, NY), October 7, 2003, Len Maniace, "Artist Draws His Way to 'Genius Grant,'" p. 1A.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1999, p. 538; March 1, 2002, review of Madlenka's Dog, p. 345; July 15, 2002, review of Scranimals, p. 1042; September 15, 2003, review of The Tree of Life, p. 1182.

New York Times, December 6, 1996, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Starry Messenger, pp. B3, C18; October 13, 1998, Elisabeth Bumiller, "From Fathers to Children, a Twice-Told Tale," p. B2; December 2, 1998, Richard Bernstein, review of Tibet, p. E7; December 7, 1998, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Fire Truck, p. E7.

New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1987, Janwillem van de Wetering, review of Rainbow Rhino, p. 42; November 13, 1988, Liz Rosenberg, "Lonesome John Finds a Friend," p. 56; November 14, 1993, David Small, review of A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North, p. 34; November 13, 1994, Patricia Hampl, review of The Three Golden Keys, p. 34; June 2, 1996, Zack Rogow, review of Monday's Troll, p. 25; November 10, 1996, Elizabeth Spires, "Stars Were Always on His Mind," p. 32; December 3, 1998, Scott Veale, review of Tibet, p. 22; April 11, 1999, Heather Vogel Frederick, review of Fire Truck, p. 32; January 16, 2000, Linnea Lannon, review of The Gargoyle on the Roof, p. 27; May 14, 2000, J. D. Biersdorfer, review of Dinosaur!, p. 18; November 19, 2000, A. O. Scott, review of Madlenka, p. 67; June 3, 2001, Adam Liptak, review of Ballerina!, p. 49; May 19, 2002, Beth Gutcheon, review of Madlenka's Dog, p. 27; December 8, 2002, review of Madlenka's Dog, p. 74; December 22, 2002, review of Scranimals, p. 18.

Parade, December 11, 1994, Peter Sís, "A Last 'Thank You' to Jackie," p. 16.

Print, January-February, 1995, "Remembering Mrs. Onassis: a memoir by Peter Sís," p. 21; November-December, 1998, Julie Lasky, "Mythical Kingdoms," p. 104.

Publishers Weekly, August 10, 1990, review of Beach Ball, p. 443; October 11, 1993, review of The Dragons Are Singing Tonight, p. 88; November 7, 1994, review of The Three Golden Keys, p. 76; November 14, 1994, Sally Lodge, "Peter Sís Goes Home Again," p. 26; October 9, 1995, review of The 13th Floor, p. 86; March 11, 1996, review of Monday's Troll, p. 64; April 29, 1996, Paul Nathan, "Special Handling," p. 25; November 4, 1996, review of Starry Messenger, p. 76; August 10, 1998, review of Tibet, p. 365; August 17, 1998, Heather Vogel Frederick, "Peter Sís's Red Box Diaries: A Glimpse of Old Tibet," p. 13; April 26, 1999, review of Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, p. 81; July 5, 1999, review of The Gargoyle on the Roof, p. 71; July 19, 1999, review of Ship Ahoy!, p. 193; March 26, 2001, review of Ballerina!, p. 92; July 16, 2001, p. 146; September 24, 2001, review of The Little Wing Giver, p. 92; June 24, 2002, review of Scranimals, p. 54; December 16, 2002, review of Animal Sense, p. 67; October 13, 2003, Elizabeth Devereaux, interview with Sís, p. 78, and review of The Tree of Life, pp. 79-80.

School Library Journal, September, 1990, Michael Cart, review of The Midnight Horse, p. 226; September, 1991, Jean H. Zimmerman, review of Follow the Dream, p. 249; December, 1993, Julie Cummins, review of The Three Golden Keys, p. 87; October, 1996, Wendy Lukehart, review of Starry Messenger, p. 118; September, 1998, Torrie Hodgson, review of Fire Truck, p. 182; October, 1998, Shirley Wilton, review of Tibet, p. 160; June, 2000, JoAnn Jonas, review of Dinosaur!, p. 125; October, 2000, Wendy Lukehart, review of Madlenka, p. 137; December, 2000, John Peters, review of The Wind Singer, p. 146; April, 2001, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Ballerina!, p. 122; April, 2002, Lauralyn Persson, review of Madlenka's Dog, pp. 122-123; September, 2002, Nina Lindsay, review of Scranimals, p. 217; February, 2003, Lauralyn Persson, review of Animal Sense, p. 126; October, 2003, Margaret Bush, review of The Tree of Life, p. 204.

ONLINE

MacArthur Fellows Program Web Site, http://www.macarthur.org/(November 5, 2003), "Peter Sís."

Peter Sís Home Page, http://www.petersis.com/(November 5, 2003).

Peter Sís Tibet Web Site, http://www.petersistibet.com/ (November 5, 2003).

ZuZu, http://www.zuzu.org/(November 5, 2003), Joseph Puma and Brandon Ng, interview with Sís.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Sís, Peter 1949-." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Sís, Peter 1949-." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/sis-peter-1949

"Sís, Peter 1949-." Something About the Author. . Retrieved August 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/sis-peter-1949