cover image White Bird

White Bird

R.J. Palacio. Knopf, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-52564-553-5

Branded as “A Wonder Story,” Palacio’s well-paced graphic novel debut expands upon a story introduced in Auggie & Me—Grandmère’s tale of her childhood in German-occupied France. Asked by Julian, Wonder’s bully, to recount the story of Julien, a boy impacted by polio who helped her hide from Nazi soldiers as a child, Grandmère reluctantly agrees. Cruelly teased by schoolmates, Julien becomes Sara’s protector after Nazis invade their progressive school. The two make a sympathetic duo as Sara’s once-charmed life gives way to an existence of survival. Palacio elaborates on her previous books’ themes, including empathy, bullying, and othering, and a twist toward the end challenges assumptions about who “belongs” in a society. Final panels, which show contemporary Americans protesting family separation at the U.S./Mexico border, tether the story to current events. The volume’s visual style is at its most distinctive in its evocative settings and poetic moments, such as woods that sparkle with bluebells and the titular white bird soaring through time and space. Palacio, a confident storyteller, has crafted a work whose classroom-friendly packaging belies a gripping human story. Further resources include a glossary and suggested reading list. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)