Stories Without Words – An Ocean World by Peter Sis

Some books touch your heart.  ” An Ocean World” by  Peter Sis is one of these.  It tells a simple and powerful story about a whale’s search for friendship and love.   Apart from the writing on the postcard on the first page, the entire story is told through the images- the evocative watercolour marks and the muted colours. We meet the whale for the first time in baby picture that has been turned into a postcard:


On the back of this card we can read a message from Peter Sis to his children: “Greetings from Ocean World!  This morning I saw a whale who has been here since she was just a few weeks old.  Soon the day will come when she will be returned to the ocean to live with others of her kind.  She has seen many people but has never seen another whale.  I wonder what it will be like for her! Love, Peter” Peter Sis has two children, Madelein and Matej, both born in America.  He himself was born and raised in Checkoslovakia during the grim years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  But I digress.  Back to the whale.  We see her growing up as the years pass, and soon she is too large for her tank at the aquarium.

She is released into the sea, and bids farewell to her friends in the ship:


Then follows page after page of haunting images of her search for a friend.  She meets many things which are vaguely whale like in shape:

But also sees many sad things – as sunken ship, a barge hauling trash and poluting the sea.  Just when all seems hopeless and she swimss away – what is that on the horizon?

And on the back cover is this lovely image of two whales making a rainbow:

You can read more about Peter Sis here and here.

Peter Sis did another whale project, a poster for the New York Subway:  Gail Dumalo wrote this great article about itHere is an image of the poster. The poster depicts a whale in cross section, inhabited by a surreal map of New York complete with subway trains.  From the article: The whale was a familiar and comforting presence in the train. Many a commuters ride was at least made interesting by its presence. I was held captive by Siss whale drawing again and again. I welcomed scrutinizing each minute detail the whole subway ride home when I was caught without a book to read, CD music to listen to or when I got sick and tired of the Dr. Zizmor derma ads. This artwork was the most apt depiction of Manhattan in the same way that E.B. Whites classic essay, Here is New York best captures the quintessential Manhattan.

“For a person born in a landlocked country [the Czech Republic], the whales always fascinated me. The whale is my poem about my twenty years in New York, the most exciting and proudest place in the world. New York is where my children were born, said Sis.”

You can also see the Peter Sis Subway Mosaics here

This is a interview with him by some children and here is an article about another book of his, “The Wall”  an autobiographical account of his years growing up in Checkoslovakia.

Here is Peter Sis speaking about his children, and here about how he had to change his artmaking when his children were born. Here he is talking about his book “Tibet, through the red box”.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. david
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 12:31:37

    I received “an ocean world” as a gift to me some days ago.
    But, the last paint is not as above description.
    It means there is no the page of “rainbow between whales” neithter in the last page nor the back cover.

  2. mashadutoit
    Sep 28, 2009 @ 12:50:54

    oh no! That’s strange?

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