Graphic novel, Young Adult Fiction

White Bird

January 9, 2023
White Bird by R. J. Palacio

What can’t R. J. Palacio do? I mean, first the bestselling Wonder, of course made into a popular movie, and now spin-off stories based on characters from Wonder… and in graphic novel form? This book contains an Anne-Frank-inspired plot about the Wonder bully Julian’s grandmother being concealed by kind strangers during the Holocaust. I am most impressed with the fact that Palacio seems to have done the illustrations herself–apparently she graduated from the Parson School of Design (New School/New York). While I was surprised that she branched out into graphic novels, I was also a little skeptical that she, a non-Jewish person, was telling a Holocaust story. Turns out her husband and children are Jewish, and the theme here of “Never Again” really is a lesson that bears repeating. I particularly liked the sensitive portrayal of the character of Julien Baumiers, the kid who’d had polio and is the target of cruel bullying in school (bullying is a recurring theme/target in Palacio’s work), and the sweet friendship (romance?) that emerges between him and Sara Blum as his family attempts to help her. The story of Sara Blum’s survival is really very compelling. Consequently, I did not love the didactic epilogue in which present day Julian is protesting cruel migrant and refugee policies in New York City (e.g. the separation of children from detained parents). That deserves its own story–its own graphic novel even. Ending on that note diluted the message about the Holocaust. There are plenty of anti-Semites out there as well as Holocaust-deniers. This book offers an accessible introduction to the Holocaust to children like my 11YO. Ending on current immigration policies is a distraction.

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