White Bird by R. J. Palacio
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
“I want my essay to be about you, Grandmere!”
“Me? I’m so flattered!”
“I want to write about you and Torteau, Grandmere. I know you told me the story before but this time I’m going to record you and maybe you can give me more details.”
“Oh, Julian, it’s so hard for me to talk about these things.”
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No. I should talk about it mon cher. Even if it’s hard. In fact, because it is hard. Because your generation needs to know these things. All right, I will tell you the story, Julian, the whole story. Even the parts I have never told anyone before…Those were dark times, yes, but what has stayed with me most is not the darkness, but the light. That is what I have held on to all these years, and that is the story I want to share with you now (5-7).”
And so begins R.J. Palacio’s White Bird about Holocaust survivor, Sara, Julian’s grandmother. Remember Julian? The boy in Wonder who was a relentless bully to Auggie? In this graphic novel, Palacio tells the story of Sara, a young Jewish girl living in Nazi-occupied France. When Julian hears his grandmother’s story, he learns not only about what Jewish people endured during the Holocaust, but also about the courage and kindness offered by those who were unwilling to be silent, those who stood up against the inhumanity of what was happening.
“Oh, what has happened to the world? When will God make this evil end?”
“It’s not up to God to make it end, Pastor. Evil will only be stopped when good people decide to put an end to it. It is our fight, not God’s … In these dark times, it’s those small acts of kindness that keep us alive, after all. They remind us of our humanity (116-117).”
With beautiful illustrations and accessible text, Palacio brings readers a story of kindness and possibility, whether you are knowledgeable about the Holocaust or this is your first introduction. At the end of this graphic novel, Julian, the former bully from Wonder, has grown and learns the importance of speaking out.
“That is why it is so important that your generation knows what happened to my generation so that you will never let something like that happen again. You must promise me, Mon Cher, you will never let the world forget. If you see injustice, you will fight it. You will speak out. Promise me, Julian.”
“I promise, Grandmere. I will never let them forget. I will shine my light…for you (190-191).”
January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, designated by the United Nations General Assembly —the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, the UN urges every member state to honor the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides. (USHMM.org) In light of the International observation, we at Bosque will support the #WeRemember campaign.