Once again R.C. Palacio has extended the world of her bestseller Wonder and its underlying theme, Choose Kind. At first glance, her new book White Bird, which she wrote and illustrated, seems not only unconnected but for a different genre and storytelling style altogether. It is a graphic novel framed in a contemporary setting whose main characters are children growing up during World War II. And yet White Bird is a closely tethered Wonder story.
Julian will be remembered as the boy who bullied Auggie in Wonder. We meet Julian again in the opening pages of White Bird as he Facetimes with his Grandmere to ask for her help in writing a Humanities assignment. The reader is reminded that Julian called Auggie a “freak” when he confides to his Grandmere that he regrets what he did. She in turn reminds him that we are not “defined by our mistakes but by what we learn from them.”
Grandmere decides that the pain of her memory is worth telling the story to her grandson. What follows is the story of Sara, a young happy Jewish girl, growing up in a once free and then occupied France, losing all her rights as a person and having to go into hiding for the remainder of the war. Sara is left with one friend, Julien, who is also an outcast because of the polio that left him unable to walk without crutches.
Grandmere’s story will grab the reader with both the quality of the text and illustrations. Although it does not minimize the horror of the Holocaust, a child’s loss of parent, or her witnessing violent and senseless deaths, the reader is offered hope in the form of kindnesses that overwhelm, memories that sustain, and images that allow one to dream of possibility for the future, including that of the white bird.
The publishing of the book is as timely to the situation in R.C. Palacio’s country and globally as when she first began to write it. It is her empowerment to her readers to stand up in the face of injustice and choose kindness even if it will cost you your life, or at least the comforts of your life and your friends. Palacio’s people of wonder in this novel remind us that kindness is not a weakness but a strength.
The novel includes extensive information about the Holocaust as well as Palacio’s husband’s family whose stories are the inspiration for this novel. Recommended for a mature young reader—ages 9 and older.