What we're reading: 'White Bird' a timely new graphic novel

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One of the book trends that is becoming ever more popular are graphic novels and non-fiction works. A big event is the release of a new graphic novel by the beloved R.J. Palacio, author of a book that has become a middle grade classic, "Wonder." The new book, "White Bird," creates a moving and important back story for a character in "Wonder," but there is no connection in the stories except for the message in both books: the vital importance on kindness.

In "White Bird," a boy named Julien opens the story asking his grandmere to relate the story of her life for an assignment in school. His grandmere warns him that the retelling of the story of her survival as a Jewish child under the Nazi occupation in France will be painful for both of them, but with what is happening in the United States right now she feels compelled to spread her story.

The story is not unfamiliar to anyone who has read about the Nazi occupation of European countries, during which good people used every bit of ingenuity, bravery, and compassion to try to assist their Jewish neighbors and friends. In this case, Sara, who is a young girl who will survive to become the grandmere of Julien, manages to hide when the Jewish students are forcibly removed from the progressive and religiously diverse school they have attended. Like Ann Frank's true story, Sara is hidden by a caring and wonderful family, including a boy who is a polio survivor named Julien.

The art work in this graphic novel,drawn by the author but beautifully colorized by Kevin Czap, is clear and gives the reader a real sense of being a part of the story. It is impossible to read this book if you have any empathy and not be moved to tears, but also hopefully moved to action. At the end of the story, Julien's grandmere makes it very clear that she sees tremendous parallels between her experience and the current separation of families, the unlimited incarceration, and the taking of prisoners with no court dates, no limits to their sentences, and no charges, all because of who they are and the color of their skin, and not what they have done.

The publisher says that this book is for middle grade readers, but I think it is also very appropriate for older readers. At this time, a large number of Americans are in denial about the history of the holocaust, saying that it never happened. While this book is fiction, it is very well researched. "White Bird" is a wonderful and compelling, read, as well as sharing a history that Americans need to know right now.

"Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation" would be an amazing read along with "White Bird," as Anne Frank's story is similar, but as with life, also completely different based on where she lived, who she was, and the fact that she was a real person, not a composite based on the experiences of a number of people who were forced to live in hiding during the Holocaust. The art work by illustrator David Polonsky is creative and moving, with much detail to see on every page, including lots of impressive interpretation of Anne's feelings and imaginary thoughts, making this book a new read even for those who are very familiar with the original Diary.

At this time, we hear about thousands, maybe millions of people who are terrified that they, like Anne and like Sara of "White Bird," will be sent to their almost certain death if they are sent to their countries of origin where there are failed states, and even a violent narco-state in the case of Honduras. People are hiding in plain sight, some are living in sanctuary churches, and some are afraid to leave their homes. Both of these stories will give today's readers who are living in relative security an idea of what it is like to be hunted and hated only for where you were born and what is in your blood. However, kindness is the major takeaway — that we are all able to step up and be life savers if we are willing to take a risk.

Everyone's Books, at 25 Elliot St., Brattleboro, is a family-owned independent bookstore specializing in books about social change, the environment, and multicultural children's books. Many of our books are by original, creative, and progressive authors.

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