Tuesday, November 12, 2019

White Bird by RJ Palacio

White Bird by RJ Palacio
October 2019 Penguin UK


A powerful, unforgettable graphic novel from the world of Wonder, by globally bestselling and award-winning author R. J. Palacio.

To the millions of readers who fell in love with R J Palacio's Wonder, Julian is best-known as Auggie Pullman's classroom bully. White Bird reveals a new side to Julian's story, as Julian discovers the moving and powerful tale of his grandmother, who was hidden from the Nazis as a young Jewish girl in occupied France during the Second World War.

An unforgettable, unputdownable story about strength, courage and the power of kindness to change hearts, build bridges, and even save lives, from the globally bestselling author of Wonder.

Graphic novels aren't often on my radar.  They are not often at the top of my reading pile.  There is one way however to make me add a graphic novel to the top of my pile, and that is to make it a Wonder story, that is written AND illustrated by RJ Palacio.  This is how White Bird made it into my hands.

For someone who says she doesn't read graphic novels...I read quite a lot of them.  This one is substantial, hardback and 224 pages.  I have come to realise that for me the graphic novels that I have loved are the ones that use the illustrations to give another, more impactful, dimension to the story.  

You may remember this story in Julian's chapter in Auggie and Me, but White Bird fills in more of the blanks for us. The story of Julian's Grandmother, Sara, who escaped capture and hides from the Nazis in occupied France during the Second World War, is not a unique story.  There have been a number of books about other children who survived the atrocities of that war, and they are stories that should be told, and told again.  

That's why I think writing this book as a graphic novel is the perfect way to tell this story.  As I said, the images add another dimension for me, and they make me stop and look, as well as read. 

War is never pretty, so this book isn't either.  For some readers it may be too much to see soldiers shooting a young man in the woods, with the text: 

Then they shot him.  His blood spilled out onto the snow.  The snowflakes covered his body like a blanket.

I didn't find the violence in this book, too much or too graphic, but it is something to keep in mind, when deciding where it might fit in a school library.

I think it would work really to look at this book in conjunction with Once by Morris Gleitzman or Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.  It could of course also be used with Wonder, because even though they are completely different stories, written in completely different formats, White Bird still has the resounding message of kindness at its heart.

To bring the story full circle, we see Julian at a peace protest, holding a placard with the words...
Never Again #weremember

*There are author’s notes in the back of the book, giving background to why she wrote this. There are also comprehensive historical notes, to give further background to aspects of the story

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