About Peter Sís

Peter Sis with mural

Peter Sís is an internationally acclaimed illustrator, author, and filmmaker. He was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1949, and attended the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague and the Royal College of Art in London. He began his career as a filmmaker and won the Golden Bear Award at the 1980 West Berlin Film Festival for an animated short. He has also won the Grand Prix Toronto and the Cine Golden EagleAward, and in 1983 collaborated with Bob Dylan on You Got to Serve Somebody. His film work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In 1982, he was sent by the Czech government to Los Angeles to produce a film for the 1984 Winter Olympics. But the film project was canceled when Czechoslovakia and the entire Eastern Bloc decided to boycott the Olympics. Ordered by his government to return home, Peter decided to stay in the United States and was granted asylum. A correspondence with Maurice Sendak led to a meeting and Peter’s introduction to children's book editors, and he moved to New York City in 1984 to begin a new career.

Sís quickly became one of the leading artists in the field with the publication of the 1986 Newbery Medal Winner, The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishman. With more than twenty books to his credit and almost as many honors, Peter is a six-time winner of The New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year for Rainbow Rhino, Beach Ball, Follow the Dream, Komodo!, The Three Golden Keys, and The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin. Komodo! and A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North were each named a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book, and he has won a Society of Illustrators Gold Medal for Komodo! and a Silver Medal for The Three Golden Keys. Peter’s book Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei was a 1997 Caldecott Honor Book and has been published in English, French, German, Czech, Portuguese, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Spanish. Madlenka, Madlenka’s Dog, and The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin were all named New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Books of the Year.

In 2012, his life's work was recognized with the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Illustrator Award, presented by IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People.

Peter Sís book covers

In 2003, Peter was named a MacArthur Fellow, an honor bestowed by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recognizing “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

In addition to his prolific career as an author, Peter Sís has contributed more than a thousand drawings to The New York Times Book Review and his illustrations have appeared in Time magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, Esquire and many other magazines in the United States and abroad.

He has designed many book jackets and posters, including, in 1984, the famous poster for Milos Forman’s Academy Award-winning motion picture, Amadeus. More recently, he has completed a mural for the Washington/Baltimore Airport, a poster for the New York City subway system, and a stage set for the Joffrey Ballet. He lends his art to many mediums and will sometimes paint on any surface he can find—chairs, walls, eggs, boxes, seashells, even hats. Peter recently created a mural for New York City’s 86th Street Lexington Avenue subway station, working with the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority. His work has been exhibited in Prague, London, Zurich, Hamburg, Los Angeles, and New York in both group and one-man shows.

In 2007, Peter published The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain (Frances Foster Books / Farrar, Straus and Giroux / September 2007). Václav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, says of the work,“Peter Sís’s book is most of all about the will to live one’s life in freedom and should be required reading for all those who take their freedom for granted.” In January 2008, the book was awarded The Robert F. Sibert Medal and was also named a Caldecott Honor Book.

Sís’s first book for adults was published in the fall of 2011 by The Penguin Press. The Conference of the Birds is a beautifully illustrated adaptation of the twelfth century Persian poet Farid Ud-Din Attar’s epic poem.

In 2012, Sis delivered the May Hill Arbuthnot lecture and created for the Prague airport a tapestry honoring Václav Havel, based on an illustration from The Conference of the Birds.

Peter Sís lives in the New York City area with his wife and children.

Caldecott Honor Seal

Peter's Awards

• Hans Christian Andersen Illustrator Award

• Caldecott Honor Book, awarded three times

• Newbery Medal

New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year, awarded seven times

• Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book, awarded twice

• Society of Illustrators Gold and Silver Medals

New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Books of the Year, awarded three times

• The Robert F. Sibert Medal

Sís Books at the Library

Find our Peter Sís titles in the catalog.