White Bird


Sara lives a contented life in her small French village until the Nazis take over and ‘the Vichy government pass a series of anti-Jewish laws’. While Sara’s family plan for how they might avoid attention, danger grows. Then comes the day when Headteacher, Pastor Luc invites a group of Jewish children, outside; they have been summoned by Nazi soldiers.

Something compels Sara to hide in the belfry. Yet why Julien, the boy who sits alongside her in maths, with whom she has never spoken, finds her and ferries her to safety, is extraordinary. Furthermore, Julien is ridiculed by Sara’s classmates for his disability, brought on by polio; he’s known as Tourteau (Crab).

How can Julien hope to lead Sara to a safe hideout in his family’s shed? Thereafter is it possible that she may stay there, fed and cared for by his family, while Nazi atrocities continue about them and danger grows?

R.J. Palacio builds upon her Wonder collection to tell the story of Julian’s grandmother. While Julian is ashamed of the torment he’s caused Augie, he seeks information and guidance from his beloved grandmother, Sara. Yet can her story of courage, shame and love help to reconcile Julian’s guilt? Will her White Bird set his soul soaring as it did hers once? Who is Julien, the boy after whom her grandson is named?

R.J. Palacio’s storytelling is deft, compassionate and stark. We realise that this history is cruel yet laden with humanity. Furthermore, the tones, characters and themes are all borne from her own mother-in-law’s stories and the award-winning writer’s determination and reading. White Bird is a meaningful, wonderful graphic novel of events in WWII Europe.


White Bird

R.J. Palacio

(Penguin Random House)

Sara draws White Bird patterns, letting her ‘soul take flight’ through maths lessons. Next to her sits Julien, aka Tourteau (the crab), ridiculed because of a disability caused through polio. Although she is unaware of him, he attends to her, collecting her sketch book when she drops it. However, what he does for her later will save her life.
Sara is grandmother to Julian, Augie’s tormentor from the acclaimed Wonder. He calls to ask her about her experience of WWII, little anticipating the story she tells him.
It seems that Sara’s education in her small French village would be cut short by the Nazi invasion. Thereafter she and other Jewish school children were rounded up to be detained. However something stopped her from joining the group so that she hid in the school belfry. Julien found her there and led her to hide in his family’s barn. Such an action could lead to the family being exposed, deported and worse….
Yet Julien’s family care for Sara, as she yearns for news about her parents and fears discovery. However she knows the risks that Julien and his family take. Furthermore, she learns how her obliviousness of Julien is part of a wider campaign of bullying. Sara explains this to Julian, her grandson and namesake to her saviour, as he struggles with acknowledging how he has treated Augie.
White Bird develops from the collection of Wonder stories, yet takes in the experiences of the author’s mother-in-law in WWII. Thereafter, it is a fictionalised account of the Holocaust experience in France and throughout Europe. At its heart is a strong moral message of courage, loyalty and compassion and the need to stand up for the oppressed.
White Bird is beautiful storytelling, gloriously coloured, paced and formed. Bookwagon recommends it highly.


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