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White Bird: A Wonder Story

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
White Bird: A Wonder Story Book Poster Image
Moving WWII graphic novel has loss, offers hope for future.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The afterward, author's note, glossary, and more at the end of the book provide more to explore, further explanations, and food for thought, especially about understanding and remembering the past in general and specifically the Holocaust. Encourages further study and making connections between past and current events. The story itself offers a lot of insight into France during World War II and the war's impact on people's lives. Some French words and phrases are translated; a few just have context clues.

Positive Messages

Evil will only be stopped when good people decide to put an end to it. Never forget the tragedies of the past, and when you see injustice, speak out and fight it. Kindness, like love, stays with you forever. It always takes courage to be kind, but when being kind to others puts you in danger, it becomes a beacon of light that saves and preserves our humanity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sara is a great role model for patience and endurance while she's in hiding for over a year in a hayloft. She's pretty self-centered, but eventually learns empathy, gratitude, and humility as she begins to see and understand things from other points of view. Julien and his parents put themselves at great risk to hide Sara, feed her, and try to keep her spirits up while she has to hide. They're all great models of perseverance, compassion, and courage.

Violence

Concentration camps are mentioned but not depicted, except in one photo and definition in the glossary in the back. Parental death in a concentration camp, fear of parental loss, and wartime atrocities like shooting civilians are important themes. Illustrations and story depict German soldiers shooting at civilians fleeing and show splotches and small blobs of blood on one dead body and on the backs of those running away. Another body, the victim of a wolf attack, is shown with small amounts of blood illustrated. A bully punches and causes a bloody nose; several panels show the nose bleeding and blood on the victim's clothes. Characters are in danger during Nazi roundups, and of being discovered while hiding and being taken away. Threats with guns, verbal aggression, and intimidation by Nazis and Nazi collaborators.

Sex

Mention of growing romantic feelings, blushing, and one long kiss mentioned and illustrated without details.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Once, sleeping powder is snuck into neighbor's milk so that that person won't hear or see activities having to do with keeping Sara hidden.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that White Bird: A Wonder Story is the first graphic novel by R.J. Palacio (Wonder). It continues and enlarges a story in Palacio's Auggie & Me about Julian's grandmother and her experience hiding from the Nazis during World War II in France. The Holocaust and the loss of parents and other family and friends are prominent themes. No concentration camps are depicted, but they're mentioned. Other violence includes illustrations showing blood on two dead bodies and bullet wounds in the back of civilians fleeing German soldiers. A bully shoves a kid who uses crutches to the ground, and several panels show the bloody nose and blood dripping onto his shirt and jacket. Characters are in danger of being rounded up by Nazis, or of being reported for harboring Jews, which maintains a sense of scariness and dread throughout. Important characters die. The main character as a young teen is separated from her parents and not sure whether they're alive. It's a difficult chapter in history to talk about, but messages about gratitude, empathy, perseverance, courage, and kindness prevail. And it's a good chance to talk to kids about how the Holocaust happened, why new generations need to learn about it, whether current events mirror those of the past and if so, what can be done about it. Lots of material at the end provides the historical events and people that inspired the story, more food for thought, and avenues for further exploration and study.

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What's the story?

WHITE BIRD: A WONDER STORY finds Julian at a new school working on a project for his humanities class. He decides to call his grandmother in Paris and ask her to tell him more details about her life and what happened to her during World War II, when she was a young teen living in occupied France. When the Nazis began rounding up Jews in their small town in the countryside, Grandmother Sara went into hiding for more than a year, led to safety by an unlikely friend, her shunned classmate Julien. He and his parents protected and fed Sara in secret for the duration of the war. During her interminable hours alone in a hayloft, and through the daily visits from Julien and his mother, Sara starts to see the world through other eyes, and to understand how spoiled and self-centered she's been. She also learns the enormous value of kindness, and how in the worst of times it becomes a beacon of light that saves us and preserves our humanity. And now that it's time for a younger generation to learn the lessons of the past, former bully Julian determines to speak out against injustice and carry on the legacy of kindness toward others handed down in his name.

Is it any good?

Keep a tissue handy as you near the end of this moving World War II story, beautifully written and lovingly illustrated by R.J. Palacio. The author of Wonder and Auggie & Me gently but unblinkingly tells a fictional story that enfolds one of humanity's greatest tragedies in the hopeful embrace of messages about the importance of kindness and speaking out against injustice. White Bird: A Wonder Story may well raise questions about how and why the Holocaust happened that are difficult, maybe even impossible to answer or understand fully. Learning about and understanding the past so that it doesn't happen again is a central theme that, along with others, can help young readers process large-scale tragic events.

Palacio deftly weaves details about Julian's story that will be familiar to her readers, like his experience as a bully, with events in his grandmothers life -- from her complicit shunning of a classmate to her eye-opening realization that she was reviled by some not because of something she did, but because of something she was. Naturally, a story that takes place during the Holocaust has its share of tragedy and loss, which Palacio handles elegantly, but it also shows how to be a beacon of hope, how those beacons mean everything for the sake of humanity, and how readers of any age should be beacons of light themselves, whenever and however they can.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Holocaust and how it's shown in White Bird: A Wonder Story. Did you know anything about it before you read this book? Why is it important to learn about what happened in the past?

  • Does Sara's experience with Julien change the way you look at or think about people who are different from you, or different from most people? Sara regrets not defending Julien sooner, but it takes a lot of courage to speak up when no one else does. How will you react the next time you see someone being mean, or see something unjust happening in the world?

  • Have you read any of the other books in the Wonder series? Which one's your favorite? If you haven't read them, would you like to now?

  • Do you like the illustrations? How do they help tell the story? What are some of your favorite graphic novels, and how does this one compare?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love stories of the Holocaust and World War II

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