Peter Sis

Reading Rockets recently chatted with Peter Sís about everything from his father's Tibetan journey to how his own children have influenced his illustrating career. Click on the links below to learn more about this charming storyteller and internationally renowned creater of Madlenka and the Caldecott Honor Books Tibet: Through the Red Box and Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei.

An Exclusive Interview

During an hour-long interview with Peter Sís, he told us how he was lucky to be so successful as an author/illustrator for American children. Having grown up in Czechoslovakia, he was unfamiliar with cartoons, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and baseball.

Once Sís became the father of two children in the United States, he created books according to their interests – until it was time to write about Britney Spears. Click here to watch the video clip of Peter Sís as he tells this and other stories, or read the transcript from what turned out to be a fascinating interview.

An Illustrious Life

Peter Sís is an internationally respected artist, illustrator, and author. Born in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1949, Sís studied film in Prague, won the 1980 Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear Award, and was sent by the Czech government to Los Angeles to produce a film for the 1984 Olympic Games.

When exposed to potentially career-making opportunities, Sís defied his communist government by seeking asylum in the United States. After collaborating on an MTV project with Bob Dylan and creating the memorable poster for the movie Amadeus, Sís drove a white Mustang cross-country to New York City, where he proceeded to establish himself as a premier children’s illustrator and author.

Since 1984, Sís has won numerous awards, including the Caldecott Honor, the Society of Illustrators’ gold and silver medals, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book honor awards. He is a five-time winner of The New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year. Sís’s art has appeared in publications such as Time, Newsweek, and The Atlantic Monthly. He has published nearly 1,000 drawings in The New York Times Book Review alone.

In the middle of his prolific and disciplined illustrating career, Sís met and married Ten-y Lajtha, a documentary-film editor. Their two children, Madeleine and Matej, have had a profound impact on Sís’s life priorities and book topics. Madeleine inspired the books Madlenka and Ballerina!, while Matej’s interests led to Dinosaur! and Fire Truck.

Books by This Author

The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin

By: Peter Sis
Age Level: 6-9
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

By: Peter Sis
Age Level: 9-12
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.