Review: White Bird: A Novel

White Bird: A Novel

by R.J. Palacio with Erica Perl, illustrated by R.J. Palacio

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (imprint of Penguin Random House), 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Jacqueline Jules
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Some readers prefer prose. For this reason, R.J Palacio’s editor suggested a novelization of Palacio’s acclaimed graphic novel, White Bird. Palacio agreed but felt that the story needed new energy for a new approach. Co-author Erica Perl has done an excellent job of offering readers an opportunity to experience this compelling story in prose format. 

The novel begins with Julian from Palacio’s book, Wonder, FaceTiming his grandmother in Paris to gather information for a school project. In a refreshing change, technology connects rather than separates the generations, allowing Julian to learn Grandmére’s painful past. 

Grandmére begins her story in the 1930’s when she was known as Sara Blum. Adored by two loving parents, Sara acknowledges that she lived a fairytale life. In a memorable scene, Sara recalls a spring picnic among beautiful bluebells. Papa lifts her with strong arms, playing a game in which she pretends to fly like a bird. The accompanying illustration by R.J Palacio is as touching as the lyrical text. 

The story moves forward to the 1940’s and the Nazi invasion of France. At first, Sara’s life changes little since she lives outside the occupied zone. Later, all Jews are in danger and Sara’s life depends on the kindness of a classmate named Julien who brings her home to hide in his barn. Julien’s family secretly shelters Sara, risking their own safety. 

While White Bird is told through the eyes of a Jewish character, the Jewish content is confined to the antisemitism of the Nazi era. In her Author’s Note, Palacio eloquently discusses how the Holocaust was an attack on humanity and remembrance should be everyone’s responsibility. White Bird clearly portrays the miracle of human beings choosing to be human, despite dark times. It is a book of courage and hope for all faiths. 

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Reviewer Jacqueline Jules is the author of fifty books for young readers including The Porridge-Pot Goblin, The Hardest Word, Picnic at Camp Shalom, Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva, Light the Menorah: A Hanukkah Handbook, and Never Say a Mean Word Again. Her middle grade verse novel, My Name is Hamburger, was a PJ Our Way selection. She lives on Long Island and enjoys talking long walks along the water. Visit her online at