It’s very hard to read this. Your eyes keep flooding with emotion all the time.
White Bird: A Wonder Story
Writer and Artist: R J Palacio
Cover Artist: R J Palacio
R. J. Palacio has decided to use her story Wonder as a starting point to tell all kinds of life experiences, beginning with her collection of stories Auggie & Me, where she first introduced us to Julian’s grandmother, Grandmère.
Palacio decided to turn this particular chapter into a powerful graphic novel, more poignant because Julian was the bully to Auggie in the first book: he kept calling him a freak for his appearance and leaving mean notes to him in his locker. When he is found out and is confronted by the director of the school, her mother is furious and decides to move him out of Beecher Prep.
Both in the movie Wonder and in the book Wonder this is bad news for Julien: he misses his friends and seems to be sorry for his behavior.
Now, in this particular short story, Grandmère’s begins her tale because she is finding out why Julien was being mean to Auggie in the first place. When Julien tells her it was because of his appearance, she tells her she was also afraid of a child in her class: Tourteau, a kid with polio who walked on crutches. This boy, however, saved her, a young Jewish girl, and hid her in his family’s barn from the Nazis during World War II.
Now, Grandmère’s experience is told in graphic novel form with White Bird: A Wonder Story. Palacio, besides being a very talented writer, also is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design, where she majored in illustration, so White Bird is her own creation.
This is such a beautiful, poignant and powerful book. It did to me what The Diary of Anne Frank did as a novel: it moved me, deeply, stirring memories from a shared family past. My father is Jew and his grandfather came to Latin America at the end of World War I. Many friends of our Jewish community had directly fled from the Nazis. I especially remember Mr. Hugo Marek’s recollections of the bullets fleeing past him: he ran several miles with only his clothes on, before securing an escape from Austria during WWII.
Julian’s Grandmère was the only survivor of the group of Jewish children at her school. The Maquis (a French partisan’s or guerrilla fighters who opposed the Nazis) had announced that the German Nazis were going to search the school for Jewish people… and all the kids had run into the woods, only to be caught.
Grandmère, though, hid in the bell tower, and Tourteau (“crab” in French) found her. Tourteau took her home through the sewers, and she lived there, hidden, for almost two years. Her mother was not so lucky: caught, she was sent to Auswitchz, where she died.
The kindness of Tourteau’s family cannot be overstated, as she says: “in those days, such kindness could cost you everything”. This young boy becomes her savior, her best friend, and grows with her in every possible way. But the story will not end well, as many stories of those horrible times didn’t.
Now, Grandmère’s beautiful story really moves Julien. When he returns to New York, he writes a letter apologizing to Auggie. Even more, he and his parents march against the separation of children from their migrant parents at this very moment in history, because who forget history will see it repeated.
R. J. Palacio has a very clear message and is not afraid of linking past and present: bullies and far-right movements have always existed, and we can stand up to them. If that is the message you will take from this work, I bet she will be more than satisfied.
Genre: Graphic Literature, History
Publication Date: October 3, 2019
Featured image by J. R Palacio, all images belong to Random House