Catherine’s War

HarperAlley. Jan. 2020. 176p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780062915603; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780062915597.
Gr 7 Up–Billet has crafted a pictorial paean to the everyday heroes of Vichy France, as seen through the eyes—and camera lens—of a Jewish teen. Rachel Cohen’s story begins in 1942 at the Sèvres Children’s Home outside Paris, where students separated from their parents direct their own education. As Nazi deportations increase, the school’s Jewish residents must flee. Rachel assumes a new identity—Catherine Colin—and hides in plain sight. Aided by those she meets on her journey, “Catherine” travels from Sèvres to a monastery in Riom, a family farm in Limoges, an orphanage in the Pyrenees, and a second small farm before finally returning to a liberated Paris in the hope of reuniting with her parents. Along the way, her beloved Rolleiflex camera documents her story one snapshot at a time. Adapted from a novel based on Billet’s mother’s wartime experiences, this tale vividly renders a period that might seem removed to younger readers. Almost every panel—especially those inspired by real photographs—could stand alone as a work of art. From the subtle motion lines and detailed facial expressions to intricately composed scenes and dramatic backdrops, Fauvel’s ink and watercolor illustrations are masterly. This brief book will leave readers wishing they could spend more time among the torrent of settings and characters.
VERDICT A remarkable tribute to the generosity, compassion, and courage of ordinary people who endanger themselves to do right, as well as those who capture glimpses of light in the darkness.

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