#IntlYALitMonth: Catherine’s War

Catherine’s War

There’s certainly no shortage of WWII stories available for younger readers, especially stories focusing on the devastating impact and consequences of the Holocaust. And at first blush, Catherine’s War seems like just another entry to the cannon of middle grade Holocaust fiction. 

But the graphic novel, adapted by Claire Fauvel from Julia Billet’s French novel and translated into English by Ivanka Hahnenberger in 2020, offers something fresh: a story of quiet hope and resilience. There is fear, mistrust, and danger everywhere Catherine goes, but it’s never the focus. Instead, as we follow Catherine from village to village, the reader experiences the everyday kindness and bravery of those who resist the Nazis and their policies. 

The story begins in occupied Paris at the Sèvres Children’s home, where Rachel and other children, Jewish or not, live and study. With new policies concerning Jews being enacted seemingly daily, the staff of Sèvres decide to provide their Jewish students with new identities, names, and, eventually, homes. No longer Rachel Cohen, Catherine Colin is sent to a convent school and initially struggles with adjusting to all that’s new, and just as she’s finding her footing, is forced to leave to avoid detection. The threat of discovery looms ever-present, but through the lens of her Rollieflex camera, Catherine finds meaning, kindness, and connection in every new place she finds herself.

Loosely inspired by her mother’s story, Billet closes out the graphic novel with engaging and informative back matter: socio-political context on the events of the story and reproductions of photos her mother took as a child at the Sèvres Children’s Home. Readers with no knowledge of World War II will find it a comprehensive, if basic, primer on the Holocaust and Nazi-occupied France, and even readers more familiar with the history may encounter new information. 

Catherine’s War has been awarded the Andersen Premio Prize, the Artémisia Prize for Historical Fiction, and the reader’s choice Youth Prize at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, which is no surprise: in addition being an engaging and entertaining story, Claire Fauvel’s watercolor-esque digital illustrations are vivid and expressive, and Fauvel captures Catherine’s emotional and physical maturation in such a gradual, natural way that the reader feels the weight of the years alongside Catherine.

A quieter and more hopeful World War II story, Catherine’s War is highly recommended for grades 5 and up.

Catherine’s War
Written by Julia Billet, illustrated by Claire Fauvel, translated from French by Ivanka Hahnenberger 

2020, HarperAlley

ISBN: 9780062915597

Awards: Andersen Premio Prize; Artémisia Prize for Historical Fiction; Angoulême International Comics Festival Youth Prize, Mildred L. Batchelder Award honor book

Reviews: Publisher’s Weekly; Kirkus; School Library Journal

Elna McIntosh (she/her) is the librarian at Challenger Middle School in Colorado, and loves graphic novels of all kinds. With a Bachelor’s Degree in international studies and comparative world literatures from Kenyon College, she loves being able to introduce people to new and interesting stories from all over.

JULIA E. TORRES is a nationally recognized veteran language arts teacher, librarian, and teen programs administrator in Denver, Colorado. Julia facilitates teacher development workshops rooted in the areas of anti-racist education, equity and access in literacy and librarianship, and education as a practice of liberation. Julia’s work has been featured on NPR, AlJazeera’s The Stream, PBS Education, KQED’s MindShift, Rethinking Schools, Learning for Justice Magazine, School Library Journal, American Libraries Magazine, and many more. She is a Book Love Foundation board member, Educolor Working Group member, a Book Ambassador for The Educator Collaborative, and a co-founder of #DisruptTexts. Her co-authored title Liven Up Your Library: Design Engaging and Inclusive Programs for Teens and Tweens is just the first of many forthcoming publications for librarians and educators. Learn more about Julia on her website juliaetorres.com or on social media @juliaerin80

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