on the job
mystery man

Joseph Puma, age 13, and Brandon Ng, age 10, meet up with Peter Sis,
creator of the Mystery Picture
and author and illustrator of award-winning children's books.

Peter Sis & kids

How did you get interested in drawing?
When I was a boy, growing up in Czechoslovakia, my mother really encouraged me to draw. Although people liked my pictures, some did not enjoy them very much. For example, my art teacher wanted me to draw in one certain way and said that I would never be successful drawing in my way. So, I think that it is pretty important that you draw the way that YOU want to.

What do you like about your work?
It's strange, when my books come out, I don't like the work at all because I have just spent too much time on it. I like the part when I can invent things, when I am making the first sketches. But then, when I finish and people tell me how wonderful something is, I say "What do you mean it's not good!?"

What art materials do you use?
Well, it depends a lot on the space I am working in. When I travel, I have to use small compact materials, like little pads and paper and inks. Now that I have children I think about not using toxic materials or smelly, messy materials, like oil paints. Mostly I use pen and ink and watercolor. I also make up rubber stamps from some of my designs to use in my paintings.

What is a typical day like for you?
Well, I don't know where to begin. First I get up at 6 am and give my son his bottle and change his diaper. And then I make breakfast for my wife. Then I bring my daughter to her play group. I spend the time in between caring for my children at the studio. With children everything has changed. I never thought I would go to bed at 9 pm.

How would you describe your style?
Precise. When I was a kid in school I once filled a textbook of mind with drawings. I was caught and was made to write over the whole book, exactly the way it looked. This experience affected me so much that it's hard for me to grow out of doing things neat as I do.

Where do you get the ideas for your pictures?
Because I have been in this country for only ten years, I see things much like a ten year old child, like people waving for taxis and riding in elevators. I did not see this in Prague. So I write about them. I also get ideas from my two children. My newest book is called The Three Golden Keys and is about my childhood experiences in Prague, the city where I come from. Prague is in a country called the Czech Republic in Eastern Europe.

How long does it take you to draw a picture?
It depends on what subject it is and how many objects it contains. Some pictures take a half an hour, or one day, or even an entire week.

How can children be motivated to learn to draw?
It really depends on if you like it or not. Some people like writing and some like drawing. Everybody is different.

What other things do you enjoy doing?
I like traveling, I would like to go to Turkey and other places and I enjoy writing a little.

How did you get involved with the Mystery Picture for ZuZu?
Beck Underwood, the designer and publisher of ZuZu gave me the space to present my drawings and for kids to interpret them. It is rewarding for me to read all the stories about the picture and compare them to what I was thinking when I made the picture.

What was it like growing up in Prague?
As a kid, I never really liked living there. The city was a little bit scary, with all of its shadowy, gloomy cobblestone streets and dark, cold cellars. I've been to lots of other cities but I've never got the same feeling like the one that I had in Prague. But nowadays I'd like to be there to visit my family. It's hard to do that if you have a job like mine as well as kids.

How did you celebrate the holidays growing up?
There's a holiday that is celebrated on December 6th called St. Nicholas Day. Parents get somebody to dress up as St. Nicholas and ask the children it they've been bad or good. If youšve been bad, you get a lump of coal and if you've been good, you get a present. A few days before Christmas, people buy a fish called carp. They buy it alive. In order to keep them fresh, people let them swim in their bathtubs and all the children would get attached to the fish. But, then on Christmas Eve, against the screams of the children, the fish was killed and cooked.

Joseph Puma is 13 years old and lives in Manhattan with his mom, Fuji the cat, and a dog named Casey. He attends the Chancellor's Model School Project at P.S. 19 in Manhattan. His favorite subjects are reading and writing. He wishes someday to become an author, possibly a television show writer.

Brandon Ng is 10 years old and lives in Brooklyn with his mom, dad, sister, and brother. His favorite pastimes are writing and working on the computer. He's hoping to get a computer for the holidays and maybe an electronic talking parrot. He wants to become an author.

Peter Sis has over 30 books in print. He has won several prestigious awards, and been on best-seller lists. His drawings also appear in a variety of publications, and he is currently working on a piece to be installed as a mural at an airport in Baltimore. He lives in New York with his wife Terry, daughter Madeleine and son, Matej.

Published in the November/December 1995 issue of ZuZu.

If you love mystery and adventure, check out these three new books by Peter Sis:

Komodo! - published by Bantam Doubleday Dell
The Three Golden Keys - published by Greenwillow
A Small Tall Tale From the Far, Far North - published by Alfred A. Knopf


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