Sis Stays In Touch With His Past

peter sis, artist CBS

Peter Sis grew up in Prague, during the Communist era. "I grew up in society when lots of things were hidden, and they were not hidden just one way, but it was very complicated," he says.

CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Martha Teichner reports Sis grew up to be an artist, and an acclaimed writer and illustrator of children's books. Twenty years after he left Prague, that complexity still informs his work.

Sis's latest book, Madlenka, is the story of the day his daughter loses her first tooth. The book is a fantastical journey around the world - to Paris, India and Italy.

"I wanted to show how wonderful life is here, because I grew up in very, I would say, monotone and monolithic society."

What amazed Sis most as a child was the story of his father's mysterious trip to Tibet. The story was so amazing, Sis's father, Vladimir Sis, did a book and a film about it.

When Sis was four, his father, a film maker, was sent to China, supposedly for a few months. He returned two years later.

He found himself filming the construction of a road through the Himalayas, which are the world's highest mountains. It was an incredible project that made it possible for the Chinese to invade and conquer Tibet.

"One day the wall in the mountain broke, and my father and his crew were stranded away from the construction with no way to get back," Sis recalls. For months, his father wandered the countryside.

"He finds out the Tibetans are really kind," Sis remembers. "Then he sees all these temples, and all of a sudden things are not as clear as they were before. Through being in Tibet, he realized he came with the bad guys."

Sis's father filmed the Dalai Lama, who was then 19. The images the elder Sis eventually brought back to his son were magical and strange. They inflamed Peter Sis's imagination.

Eventually, Peter Sis wrote a book about his father's experiences, Tibet Through The Red Box.

"That's probably the toughest, hardest book I created just because, without thinking about it, I got very close, closest, to my personal life," Peter Sis says.

Starry Messenger, his book about the persecution of the astronomer Galileo, gets close to his political life. The book tells how Galileo was imprisoned for refusing to renounce his scientific observations, which turned out to be correct.

"A lot of Galileo is really to do with life in in Prague in the late 60's and '70's," Sis says.

Although he is a long way from where he came from, Sis can't forget his past.

"I always think like I was born in the country where everybody ate apples," Sis says. "Then I ended up in the country where everybody eats bananas. So now I eat bananas so long I'm just remembering the apples. So I'd like to go back and eat apples again."


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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