Lynn: I’m starting this post with a mea culpa admission. When I first heard about this book I was cranky. Who would imagine they could write a book about the Holocaust that is appropriate AND understandable for a very young audience? Not possible! Loic Dauvillier has me eating my words.
Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (First Second 2014) first published in 2012 in France and is translated from French by Alexis Siegel. A small girl wakes in the night and slips out of bed to find her grandmother weeping. She asks her grandmother to tell her why she is sad. Slowly the grandmother tells her the story she has kept hidden inside for so long. It is the story of her Holocaust experience and told completely from a child’s perspective. Little Dounia doesn’t understand why her family has to wear the Sheriff’s star badge, why she is suddenly treated differently. When the Nazis come to arrest her family, her parents hide her in the wardrobe. Eventually her neighbors find and hide her and as the danger increases, slip her out of Paris to a country farm where she lives out the war. Her mother survives the war but her father does not. Years later, Dounia has a much-loved family but has kept silent about her experiences until her granddaughter assures her that the nightmares will be better if you tell someone about it.
Graphic novels have a long tradition in France and artist Marc Lizano and colorist Greg Salsedo have more than met the challenge this story presents. I’ll let Cindy talk more about that but I wanted to say first that I loved these illustrations that have a Charles Schultz appeal to them that I found irresistible.
This book is a remarkable achievement. It is frank while also understanding the perspective of a young child. The fear, the loneliness, the bewilderment all come through in way that children can identify with. Dounia doesn’t understand why she and her parents and friends are being treated this way and, all these years later, I’m not sure any of us do. What is also beautifully portrayed is that love and compassion existed side by side with the hatred and it is the love that won in the end.
Cindy: Oh, the target audience might be elementary, but I can’t wait to show this to my middle school students and my teachers. Our 8th graders read The Diary of Anne Frank play by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett and then the students always want to read other related books. For many of them, it is their first introduction to the Holocaust and the impact is suitably strong. Hidden will be a great addition to a middle school collection too. If you are still struggling to get your teachers to embrace graphic novels, I believe this book would be a great one to convince them that the format has merit in the classroom.
Lynn’s comparison of the characters to Charles Schulz is interesting. The big heads on small bodies and the age of the main character sure bring to mind a Lucy van Pelt who experienced an entirely different life. The Peanuts gang and Schulz never shied away from serious issues, even on the baseball field, but the complexity and tone of the panels here is not as spare as the cover or that comparison might suggest. The dark, muted, pastels are reflective of the times and the setting. The scenes in which the grandmother is sharing her painful story are distinctive for their brown and orange glow from the fireplace late in the night, helping young children to keep track of the switches in time and place. The art is perfect for the storytelling.
The New York Times featured this book along with two other Holocaust titles recently. You can read their take here. Lynn and I need to hunt down their recommended picture book, The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren (Kar-Ben 2014) that Booklist starred. Their other recommendation, Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis (Scholastic/Levine 2014) sold really well during my spring book fairs, including to my middle school ELA teachers in all three grades.