White Bird by R.J. Palacio: Book Review

January 13th, 2020 by

white-birdIf you’ve read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, then you know the saying, “If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” In this new graphic novel by the same author, we see many characters who make the choice to be kind — and at the same time, there’s no question it is also the right choice, the moral choice, the just choice. And a dangerous choice.

White Bird is the story of Julian’s grandmother’s experience during the Holocaust, when she was a young girl in France. Julian plays a big role in Wonder and gets his own story in the follow-up, “The Julian Chapter,” but you don’t need to be familiar with those stories to read White Bird. The book opens and closes with a conversation between Julian and his grandma, but the majority of the action is a flashback to the grandmother’s youth.

Young Sara’s early life is good, growing up with her loving parents and enjoying time with her friends. But her carefree days start to change as the Nazis take control of France. At first, the changes aren’t too bad — Sara can’t go into certain stores or other businesses because she’s Jewish, but she gets used to just waiting outside for her friends.

Then her world turns upside down when the Nazis come to round up all the Jewish people in town and take them to concentration camps. Fortunately, Sara escapes — but then begins a lonely and scary period of hiding and waiting. Thanks to the kindness of a classmate’s family, Sara has shelter, food, and a little bit of company each day. But she lives with the fear of being caught.

Because she’s telling the story, we know that Sara survives the Holocaust, but we also know from history that millions of other people were not so lucky. So it’s appropriate that Sara’s story includes a lot of harrowing moments and sadly, also includes multiple deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their supporters. But the violence is not gory — and obviously, it’s an important and necessary part of the book. But so is the bravery and kindness of some of Sara’s neighbors.

So overall, this is clearly a sad story — but it’s not an unbearably depressing book. And the graphic novel format makes it easier to take everything in and helps keep the pace moving (the story takes place over years, but it doesn’t ever feel overwhelming). Check out a few pages from the book, shared on the publisher’s website:

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Regardless of whether or not you’ve studied the Holocaust at school, this book will be a good addition to your knowledge and understanding of that period in history. But it doesn’t feel like a textbook; it’s a gripping story with characters you will come to care deeply about. Perhaps most importantly, the book reminds us that it’s our job to be an upstander (rather than a bystander) and to speak out against hateful attacks, actions, and laws and make sure that something like the Holocaust never happens again.

— Karen

Right after finishing this book, Karen turned to her friend and started talking about it. You may also want to discuss the book with other people, so Karen would suggest reading it alongside friends, parents, or other family members so you can experience it together and then talk about it after. Also, keep some tissues handy.

More about Karen »

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