In White Bird, a graphic novel, the best-selling author of Wonder traces the holocaust history of a Wonder character’s grandmother.
White Bird (a Wonder Story) by R. J. Palacio. Knopf (Random House), 2019, 216 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 10-15
Readers of R. J. Palacio’s best-selling Wonder may remember Julian, one of the kids at Beecher Prep who tormented Auggie, the protagonist with the monster face. Julian’s background was explored further in Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories, which included his French grandmother as an incidental character. White Bird is the graphic-novel treatment of the story of Julian’s Grandmere, Sara. The story begins when Julian calls her for information on her background for an essay he’s writing. She doesn’t like remembering those years, but realizes her grandson’s generations needs to know, lest such horrors happen again. So back to the dark days of 1940, when France surrendered to the Germans, destroying Sara’s idyllic childhood. Were it not for the generosity and courage of her teacher, her schoolmate Julien, and Julien’s parents, who hid her in their barn for over two years, Sara would have been shipped off to a concentration camp with her Jewish mother.
“Kindness” is the theme of Wonder, carried on in all of Palacio’s subsequent work. Her point of view is valuable and worth discussing, even challenging (see discussion points). The book is beautifully produced with quality binding and artwork by the author. The message falters at the end, when a clear parallel is drawn between the holocaust and the Trump administration immigration policy, specifically separating parents from children at the border. It cheapens the horror of the holocaust to compare it to current immigration policy. However misguided that policy might be, it’s not mass murder and genocide.
- Sara ages from 12 to 15 in the course of the story, and she and Julien develop a romantic interest, with some kissing.
- Though Sara’s family is Jewish, she attends a school run by Protestant Christians. The Christians are seen as actively protecting Jews during the Nazi occupation.
Overall Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Artistic/literary value: 4.5
- While trying to explain evil, Sara’s Papa tells her, “I believe that all people have a light that shines inside them. This light allows us to see into other people’s hearts, to see the beauty there . . . Some people have lost this light. They have darkness inside them, so this is all they see in others: darkness.” Compare this with Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:14-16 and 6:22-23. Is Jesus saying the same thing as Papa? Where does the light come from?
- On p. 116, Pastor Luc laments, “What has happened to the world? When will God make this evil end?” Vivienne replies, “Evil will only be stopped when good people decide to put an end to it. It is our fight, not God’s.” What are your thoughts? Can “good people” put an end to all the evil in the world?
More World War II moral quandary: see our starred review of The Faithful Spy
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