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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Graphic Novel Version of a Memoir of Two Kids Escaping from Nazi-occupied Paris

Joffo, Joseph; Kris; Bailly, Vincent  (2013) A Bag of Marbles  Minneapolis:  Graphic Universe

     Memoirs are weird.  Real life usually doesn't proceed like a story, and so the reader can't trust a memoir the same way the reader would trust a novel.  Certain sorts of novels can be trusted to end in certain ways.  With a memoir, you never quite know what is going to happen next.  In a memoir about two boys whose parents send them off on their own to escape the Nazis, you would expect this to make for a terrifying story where you spend every moment of your reading time afraid that the kids are going to be suddenly discovered and slaughtered.
     A Bag of Marbles is not like thatOh, there is plenty of tension, to be sure, but somehow you are always sure that everybody is going to make it out.  On the one hand, that is good, because it makes the book less exhausting, on the other hand, the pacing may be a little bit slower than modern young readers are used to..
      The story is not so complicated.  Maurice and Joseph live in Paris.  Their parents become convinced that, under Nazi occupation, Paris is no longer a safe place for Jews.  Because they still have things they need to take care of, they send the kids off on their own to escape into unoccupied Europe.  And that is what makes this story fun, The twelve and ten year old have to suddenly make decisions and take action, and think in ways that one would only expect adults to. They have to pretend to not be Jewish, decide who they can trust, and figure out how to get food and places to stay. 
     The art work is realistic and features some landscapes that are absolutely beautiful, and others that are haunting and sparse. 
     Kids ages 10 and up who like history and non-fiction, and who like reading graphic novels will probably like this one.  There aren't any real female protagonists other than the mother, so it may be a bit of a hard sell for girls.  There is a bit of vulgar language, but probably not enough to garner a PG-13 rating if it were a movie (which actually it was -- back in 1973).  This is not the graphic novel that I would give to a kid who had never read graphic novels before, and it isn't the book I would give to a kid if you have only one shot at getting that kid hooked on reading -- but if you know a kid who likes to read and can't get enough books -- and who eats up history and likes graphic novels -- I think this one will be a hit with that kid.   

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