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A Book Review on "White Bird” by R.J. Palacio

“White Bird - A Wonder Story” by R.J. Palacio is a gorgeous graphic novel based on the devastating topic of the Holocaust. While reading, I had to take multiple breaks to think, process, and cry. Not only is Palacio’s story powerful and haunting, but the illustrations are full of life and meaning. Few books leave me feeling inspired, but this was definitely one of them.

Palacio’s graphic novel isn’t a completely true story, but rather, it’s based on several true stories with a little fiction sprinkled in. It’s called “A Wonder Story” because Palacio continues her “Wonder” series with the character of Julien. Palacio’s readers are first introduced to Julien in her “Wonder” book, where Julien makes some poor choices towards Auggie. In “White Bird”, Julien’s Grandmère tells her story of how she escaped the Holocaust in France during WWII, which ends up inspiring Julien into action.

“White Bird'' is told through the eyes of 13-year-old Sara (Grandmère), a Jewish citizen of France. Through her eyes, the reader sees the Nazis slowly invade her land, spread anti-Jewish propaganda, and then begin the relocation of millions of Jewish people to concentration camps. Fortunately, Sara has help from a classmate, and his family hides her from the Germans.

Recommended Age Group?

The publisher’s recommended age group is 9-12. Due to the themes and topic, 9-year-olds might be a little too young for this graphic novel. I would increase the age to at least 10, considering that the purpose of this graphic novel is to

introduce the topic of the Holocaust to younger students.

Obviously, the topic of the Holocaust is a very difficult topic to teach. Palacio does an excellent job of addressing this topic in an age-appropriate way. However, because this is a graphic novel, some of the images are more detailed. For example, there is one particular illustration where the reader sees a man lying on the snowy ground who has just been shot. The reader sees blood on the entrance and exit wound.

This graphic novel also elicits many emotions, and it’s not always easy to tell if your students are ready to feel these emotions. Sadness permeates throughout, and there are so many lines that make the reader stop and process. Some of the text, while not detailed, was enough to make me close the book and take time to process the events of the story.

There are positive themes as well. Friendship and kindness are large themes, and it’s because of Julien’s kindness that Sara was able to get through the Holocaust without losing her life. Love, sacrifice, and perseverance are also important themes throughout this graphic novel. Readers are also taught about good and evil and how the only way to combat evil is with goodness and light.

Palacio also connects the events of WWII with modern-day events, and gets readers thinking about how humanity can do their part in making sure something like the Holocaust never happens again.

Classroom Approved?

This book is classroom-approved, but due to its themes and subject matter, best suited for grades 5-8.

Not only will students enjoy reading this story due to its graphic novel format, but they’ll also be interested in the history of the event. Palacio’s story may spark questions about WWII, allowing for many teachable opportunities.

I also love the fact that Palacio included a glossary and author’s note. A lot of important information is given in those last several pages, which will allow students to dig deeper into the story.

As always, I recommend pre-reading any classroom read aloud to make sure you are happy with the author’s content.

R.J Palacio's "White Bird"!

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