Review for "White Bird" by R.J. Palacio (2019)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“White Bird” is a beautifully drawn graphic novel about Julian’s grandmother’s experience during the Nazi occupation of France during WWII. If you are familiar with the ‘Wonder’ series, then you’ll remember Julian as the not-so-nice kid at Beecher Prep that gave the main character, Auggie, such a hard time fitting in with other students. For those that didn’t like Julian at the end of that story, this novel is his redemption, a chance for him to learn empathy from his beloved grandmother, Grandmere.
As Grandmere reflects on her past to Julian, we learn that she was once a young, middle class Jewish girl named Sara growing up during the days of Nazi-occupied France. In the beginning, she lives a sheltered existence at her home with her parents, even though public disdain and discrimination against Jews is everywhere. Eventually, the Nazis take over the region and begin to arrest Jews, killing them or rounding them up and transporting them to concentration camps. Sara hides in the home of a classmate, a kind boy with a walking disability named Julien who lives with his parents. Over the next several years, Julien and Sara form a close friendship. It is so close that after the war she names her son Julien, who in turn gives that name to the main character of this story.
I am skipping parts, of course, because I do not want to ruin this beautiful story. The pictures are a plus, exquisitely drawn in pastels and neutral colors. There are also loads of resources in the back of the book with information on the Holocaust, as well as organizations that educate and teach about this tragic historical event.
Be forewarned, however: this book is definitely a tearjerker. Go into this one with a warm blanket and lots of tissues. You’ll need them.
Five stars. Excellent book.
Review for "Hey Kiddo" by Jarrett Krosoczka (2018)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Ayyy…first post of the New Year!! Happy 2019!
Heartbreaking but hopeful nonfiction graphic novel about the life of the author, Jarrett Krosoczka. After giving a TED talk about his upbringing and receiving an overwhelmingly positive response, he decided to create this book. I’m glad he did.
Jarrett was born in 1977 in Worchester, Massachusetts. His mother was young at the time of his birth and, as he would later find out, struggling with heroin addiction. His father’s identity remained somewhat of a mystery, Jarrett does not learn his name until he is almost a teenager. For a time when he is small, Jarrett lives with his mother, though she eventually turns back to heroin and criminal activity. At the age of 3 he goes to live with his grandparents, who despite their own rocky marriage, love and raise Jarrett with all of the nurturing he could ever ask for. They take him to visit his mother in jail and throughout her detox stays, answer his questions and see him through school, but most importantly they encourage his desire to draw, which he does to escape from the pain of not having a mom.
The novel follows Jarrett until he graduates from high school. Although he does eventually discover his dad and develop a relationship with him, he continues intermittent contact with his mother due to her drug addiction. Years later, as a successful and best selling author, he decides to share this story to connect with other people.
Anyway, I loved this book. It is YA, but deals with very adult issues. I imagine that it resonates with many people, particularly now due to the overwhelming prevalence of the opioid/meth epidemic. Even as a middle school teacher, I taught many students who were being raised by aunts and uncles and grandparents, mostly due to their own parents being incarcerated or simply gone, addicted to drugs.
Five stars. Don’t miss this.
Another strange Top Ten Tuesday topic is official today, it’s “Series I’ve Given Up On.” I don’t read serial fiction much anymore, so this topic isn’t for me. There was a time, though, as a young grasshopper when I was obsessed with Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, and The Babysitter’s Club, but we won’t talk about that, will we?
I’ve decided to explore some graphic novels today. Whether you call it a graphic novel or a comic book, I find the medium to be highly underrated. There is always a visual element to storytelling, and some authors/illustrators are doing it quite well. The following graphic novels I’ve either read or have been on my radar for a while:
Top Eleven Kick-Ass Graphic Novels
- Maus, Art Speigelman. Maus is probably one of the best graphic novels ever produced, nearly 25 years after its first publication. It’s the story of the author’s father’s experiences during the Holocaust, told through very brilliantly drawn cartoons. Even though the Jews are represented as mice (the Nazis are cats), you still cannot help but to be deeply moved by it. When I was a classroom teacher I used to read this with my 7th graders and they loved this book.
- Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi. Another classic graphic novel all about a very precocious girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. She’s feisty and definitely not your typical “little” girl narrator.
- Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman and David Polonsky. A story of a soldier’s repressed memories during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The soldier follows up with various people who were in the conflict, trying to fill in the holes in his memory. The story is never completely there, but this is still a fascinating book.
- Deogratias, Jean Phillippe Stassen. A graphic novel about the Rwandan genocide. I didn’t like this book so much, there’s a lot of switching back and forth through time and I found the narration too confusing to follow. I do, however, recommend that you read it if you’re into graphic novels and form your own opinion on it.
- Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner. I wrote a review for this book and you’ll find it here. Fashioned as a diary, this is a graphic novel about a 15-year-old girl growing up in the 70’s who begins having really creepy sex with her mom’s 30-something-year-old boyfriend. This relationship is not presented as grooming or pedophilia, but one in which the main character actively and happily takes part in. It’s disturbing, but it’s a book that provokes a level of thought that I didn’t think was possible.
- Rent Girl, Michelle Tea. Kinda funny but not-so-funny graphic novel about a lesbian’s adventures as a sex worker for mostly male clients. Totally raw and terrifying.
- Zahra’s Paradise, Amir. This one I haven’t read yet, though it’s on my radar. It’s about a protester’s death during fraudulent elections in Iran in 2009. The death was captured on social media, and this book is a fictionalization of this story.
- Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, G.Neri. I also wrote a review for this book and you’ll find it here. Graphic novel that revisits the true story of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, an 11-year-old child who died in Chicago in 1994. A member of a gang, he racked up 23 felonies and 5 misdemeanors before carrying out a violent hit, which mistakenly ended the life of a 14-year-old girl. Several days later, Robert was murdered by members of his own gang who feared he was an informant. It’s a meditation on inner city gangs and violence without sounding preachy. Gorgeous drawings too.
- Nat Turner, Kyle Baker. This one’s on my radar. It’s all about the 1831 Virginia rebellion led by Nat Turner, a slave who, upon hearing a voice from heaven that instructed him to do violence, rose up with a group and killed 55 slave holders before being captured and hanged. Even though don’t like the fact that it takes much of its info from William Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner (a bogus, historically inaccurate account), this one’s still worth a read.
- The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui. This one’s on my radar and currently in my possession. With all the news lately on refugees and immigration, I think it is completely fitting to read this graphic novel about a family’s escape from the war in Vietnam and their subsequent life in America. I’ll have the review when I finish it.
- That’s right. I have 11. Anyway, the last book is Black Hole by Charles Burns. I currently have possession of this book and will be reading it over the next few weeks. It’s all about those awkward years you spend as a teenager. It’s good and thick and a really dark read, but I’m liking it so far.
Ok, that’s it. Read more graphic novels, ya’ll.