Catherine’s War – Julia Billet; illustrated by Claire Fauvel

    Catherine’s War – Julia Billet; illustrated by Claire Fauvel. Harper Alley, 2020. 9780062915603

Format: Hardcover graphic novel

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

 Genre: historical fiction, graphic novel

 What did you like about the book? In 1942, Rachel Cohen is a student at the Sèvres Children’s Home, outside Paris.  She has not seen her parents since arriving at the school, but has good friends, responsibilities she enjoys, and a budding passion for photography.  The idyllic life at the progressive school is disrupted when the faculty decides to thwart Nazi rules regarding identifying their Jewish students, and Rachel and some of her schoolmates are given new identities and sent away toward the free zone in the south of France. Rachel, now known as Catherine Colin, goes first to a convent, and then to various homes where she is always cared for, and her photography is encouraged in each place where she stays.  Along the way, she makes friends, falls in love, and grows up.  When the war ends, she is able to reunite with many of the people she met throughout her journey, either in person or through the photos she has taken to chronicle her experience. 

This lovely graphic novel is easy to read but hard to forget.  Rachel/Catherine’s story is loosely based on the experiences of the author’s mother, and some of the characters were real people.  The pages are busy – some have as many as 9 panels and twice as many speech bubbles and narrative boxes – but the muted color palette and gentle tone make it accessible for readers.  The use of Rachel/Catherine’s ‘photographs’ throughout the book is a nice device to share more of her experience and memories.  The author assumes the reader has a fair amount of background knowledge about World War II and the French occupation; there is very little attention paid to the action of the War other than how it directly affects and drives Rachel/Catherine and her friends.  Further information is shared in a question and answer section in the back of the book.

Anything you did not like about the book?  no

 To whom would you recommend this book? Upper elementary and middle school students who are interested in World War II or who enjoy more serious graphic novels will find this a quick, appealing choice.  Readers of novels like The War That Saved My Life, Number the Stars, et al. will enjoy.

Who should buy this book? Public, elementary and middle school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  graphic novels

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  no

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: 1/1/2021

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