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Peter Sis [short bio]

As far as I can judge, I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men . . .

The Tree of Life : Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin was, above all else, an independent thinker who continues even now to influence the way we look at the natural world. His endless curiosity and passion for detail resulted in a wealth of notebooks, diaries, correspondence, and published writings that Peter Sís transforms into a visual treasure trove. A multilayered journey through Darwin’s world, The Tree of Life begins with his childhood and traces the arc of his life through university and career, following him around the globe on the voyage of the Beagle, and home to a quiet but momentous life devoted to science and family. Sís uses his own singular vision to create a gloriously detailed panorama of a genius’s trajectory through investigating and understanding the mysteries of nature. In pictures executed in fine pen and ink and lush watercolors – cameo portraits, illustrated pages of diary, cutaway views of the Beagle, as well as charts, maps, and a gatefold spread – Peter Sís has shaped a wondrous introduction to Charles Darwin.
--Farrar Straus & Giroux 2003
Ages 9 and Older
Peter Sis

When I went to school, I had to deal with historical figures who loomed like monuments between me and my grades. I would register, memorize, and repeat their names—Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Galileo, Darwin, Einstein—but I paid no attention to their lives. I left school and got busy with my own life, finding it somehow fascinating. Gradually I have realized that everybody has a story. Through my work I became intrigued with discovering the human element in the lives of heroes of my books, such as Columbus, Jan Welzl, Galileo, and Darwin. I want to tell children that Galileo and Darwin were also children once, and that some child today might be tomorrow’s Darwin.

As an artist looking at Darwin’s life, I was first struck by the voyage of the Beagle. Then I read more, and more, and realized that the voyage was only a small (but important) segment in a long (and important) life. I was learning about Charles Darwin, the young man who was accused by his bigger-than-life father of caring only about “shooting, dogs, and rat-catching,” which seemed to be a waste of time but later proved extremely useful, not only for collecting specimens but also for supplying the crew of the Beagle with fresh meat.

Darwin’s writing and thoughts often touched me deeply, perhaps because of my own experience of growing up under a totalitarian regime. “As far as I can judge,” Darwin wrote in his Autobiography, “I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men. I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free, so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it.”

There were anecdotes about incidents throughout Darwin’s life that made him come alive for me: catching a third beetle when he already had one in each hand, the two letters that changed his life, deciding about his marriage, studying the reaction of worms to vibration by placing them in a pot on his grand piano, writing On the Origin of Species. I visited his house in England and saw his coat hanging in his room, his walking stick and shoes left as if he were just taking a nap. It was an intense experience and very different from writing about a distant hero, like Galileo, who lived much longer ago.

I hope you will open The Tree of Life and share my fascination with the life of an exceptional man who, through the process of thinking, changed the way we think about ourselves and our world.

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis
“I was born at the beginning of it all, on the Red side—the Communist side—of the Iron Curtain.” Through annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes, Peter Sís shows what life was like for a child who loved to draw, proudly wore the red scarf of a Young Pioneer, stood guard at the giant statue of Stalin, and believed whatever he was told to believe. But adolescence brought questions. Cracks began to appear in the Iron Curtain, and news from the West slowly filtered into the country. Sís learned about beat poetry, rock ’n’ roll, blue jeans, and Coca-Cola. He let his hair grow long, secretly read banned books, and joined a rock band. Then came the Prague Spring of 1968, and for a teenager who wanted to see the world and meet the Beatles, this was a magical time. It was short-lived, however, brought to a sudden and brutal end by the Soviet-led invasion. But this brief flowering had provided a glimpse of new possibilities—creativity could be discouraged but not easily killed.
By joining memory and history, Sís takes us on his extraordinary journey: from infant with paintbrush in hand to young man borne aloft by the wings of his art.
Ages 8 and up
Madlenka's Dog by Peter Sis

Madlenka wants a dog! She doesn't really care what kind, so long as it's a dog that she can put on a leash and walk around the block. But her mother and father say NO! What is Madlenka to do? It just takes some imagination . . . Madlenka's friends on the block all play along, remembering the dogs of their childhood, and in the end it seems quite possible that there's more to Madlenka's dog than we can see. With his considerable charm, Peter Sís uses lift-up flaps and peek-through windows to bring us into Madlenka's magical world where play and fantasy make wishes come true.
Ages 4-8


Peter Sis invites readers of "Madlenka" to share his daughter's experience as she tours "the world" in her very own neighborhood proudly showing friends and shopkeepers her wiggly tooth.

"Madlenka! Where have you been?" "... I went around the world. And I lost my tooth!

The energetic illustrations and the die-cuts will entice children to read on and explore Madlenka's multi-cultural New York City neighborhood.

Ages 4-


Sis' father, Vladimir Sis was a documentary filmmaker who would tell Peter, as a young boy, of his wondrous adventures in Tibet while separated from his film crew. "He told me, over and over again, his magical stories of Tibet, for that is where he had been. And I believed everything he said." Tibet was to him, "the roof of the world.

Peter Sis recaptures and pays tribute to those memories and pages from his father's diary in a rich wonderful beautiful book.
Ages 8 and older


1997 Caldecott Honor Book

In fairy tale form with extraordinarily gorgeous illustrations, Peter Sis takes us through Galileo's list of accomplishments as the first person to state that the earth is not the fixed center of the universe.

Fresco like paintings, symbols, images, mapped charts all rich in history and all in a very unusual way, yet classic.

This book will fascinate children and adults. I think, with great certainty, that Galileo himself would feel honored by this book. A work of art!

The book opens with a quote from Shakespeare:

"Be not afraid of greatness:
some are born great,
some achieve greatness
and some have greatness thrust upon them"

Ages 6 and older
Czecholslovakian-born artist/author/illustrator Peter Sis has won international recognition and acclaim for his children's books: New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Books of the Year awards as well as Caldecott Honors.
Additional Books:
The Three Golden Keys - Woven with Czech legend, the three keys represent his (author's) journey to unlock the memory of his childhood in Prague. Beautiful story.
Follow the Dream - The Life of Christopher Columbus
Komodo - A child encounters the Komodo dragon of
her dreams. Intrigue and fascination ... both the story and art.
The Dragons Are Singing Tonight - Poems about dragons. Jack Prelutsky is the author; illustrations by Peter Sis.
"I have a dozen dragons
I bought them at the mall,
I keep them in my closet,
It's fortunate they're small"
Great Book. Kids will LOVE this !
Monday's Troll - Expands on The Dragons are Singing Tonight
Rumpelstiltskin - A classic tale. Illustrations by Peter Sis