Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Catherine's War

Billet, Julia and Fauvel, Claire. Catherine's War
January 21st 2020 by HarperAlley
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Catherine is living at the Sèvres Children's Home since both of her parents were taken. It has a progessive school, and children are given some freedom in what the want to study. Catherine loves photography, and thanks to an instructor, Penguin, has a good camera and knows how to develop pictures in the darkroom. The staff is vigilant about protecting the Jewish students from the Nazis even having them change their names to be on the safe side, but eventually it is necessary for them to leave. Catherine has another student, Alice, under her care, and the two go to a covent school, where Catherine takes first communion. She also meets a young photographer, Étienne, in the village, and is quite fond of him. Soon, though she and Alice end up in the country at a modest farm. Their teacher is rather snotty about the lack of education in the family, but the girls thrive, enjoying the security, good food, and gentle care they get. Since Catherine is older than many of the students, she starts to teach some of them. This is helpful when she and Alice must move again, this time to an orphanage. Catherine continues to take photographs of the people she encounters. When the orphanage is evacuated, Alice chooses to stay with a younger boy to help him out, and Catherine ends up with a young wife of a soldier. Eventually, the war ends and Catherine returns to Paris, only to find out that her parents have not returned and their apartment has been trashed. She find the photographer, Étienne, and is about to contact Alice as well.

While there are lots of books about people in concentration camps, there are fewer about people hiding from the Nazis and even fewer about children hiding in plain sight, under assumed identities. This graphic novel is based on the experiences of the author's mother, and seeing the number of people who were willing to help children is a testament to the good of humanity!

Catherine's interest in photography helps to give more dimension to her character; it's hard for my students to grasp that the vast majority of the people displaced by the Holocaust came from comfortable, middle class backgrounds similar to their own. The drawings depict many of the photographs taken, some replicas of actual photographs taken by the author's mother.

The drawings are very lovely, and the brown and gray color palette, with touches of green and pink, seem very appropriate to the time period. Historical graphic novels are helpful because they show so many details about life at the time-- clothing, buildings, cars, etc.

I would have liked to have seen Catherine's life before the Sèvres Children's Home, but this is a nice overview of what happened to the character during the majority of the war, as well as what happened afterwards.

This is a somewhat longer graphic novel than books like Holm's Sunny Side Up, and the print is somewhat smaller, but this makes it a great selection for readers who want more details about this historical period and who have enjoyed Jablonski's Resistance or Robbins' Lily Renée, Escape Artist. Ms. Yingling

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