Saturday, November 8, 2014

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust

Hidden is a quietly powerful graphic novel for younger ones about the Holocaust.  Dauvillier tells Dounia's story in simple language that young ones can comprehend and allows the graphics to speak for themselves.  Often, impact in graphic novels comes from a few wordless spreads, because it's then that the artist can truly shine.  Here, the graphics and words mingle seamlessly to tell the story of a young Jewish girl living in the Nazi occupation of France.


When I was very small--maybe four years old--my mom had to go to work very early.  I woke up at four in the morning so I could go to my grandparents' house for the day.  I didn't particularly mind getting up so early because my grandmother would make scrambled eggs for me in the microwave.  Something about the way she did it made them wonderfully creamy and lush.  It's easy to please a four year old, although I would give almost anything for her to be here and make them for me again.  While I was waiting for my mom to get finished, she'd turn on the news.  I remember watching Peter Jennings talk about a war.  The only war I had ever heard of was World War II, so I assumed that's what he was talking about, even though I had a vague sense that there was not so much desert landscape in WWII.  When I got older, I figured out that it was the Gulf War.  Oops.

I didn't understand war, really.  It was a bad thing where people died and Peter Jennings looked very serious with the little graphic images of missiles up in the corner of the TV screen.  I didn't know why there was a war or why people thought there needed to be a war.  And that was about as much thought as I gave it, because, hey, microwaved scrambled eggs awaited me!

In Hidden, the main character, Dounia, is a bit older--she's a young school-age girl--but she also doesn't understand the changes that are happening in her country.  The Nazis have occupied France, but she just goes to school with her friend and thinks about the cute boy, Isaac, who sometimes walks with them.  One day, though, Isaac is very upset after school, and that night, Dounia's father tells her that they are going to be a family of sheriffs.  She's very proud of the bright yellow star sewn onto her jacket, and doesn't understand why people suddenly ignore her, or worse, treat her horribly.  Finally, a classmate tells her that it's a Star of David, and that people don't like them because they're Jewish.

You can tell by Dounia's face that this concept makes no sense to her.  Evidently, her family wasn't very religious, so she really doesn't identify as being Jewish.  Even then, she can't understand why it would matter to people.

Tensions ratchet higher and higher until one night, the Gestapo come to Dounia's home.  Her parents hide her in the wardrobe and disappear.  Her kindly downstairs neighbors take Dounia in and try to smuggle her out of Paris with the Resistance.  For the next few years, Dounia stays hidden with her adoptive mama and hopes that she will one day see her parents.

When we see Dounia's mother again, it's a truly shocking transformation, and one that actually made me gasp out loud.  Kids will no doubt ask why she looks that way, and why she is so weak. It provides a segue into talking about some of the things that happened at the camps.  Children need to know.  Although we want to keep them as innocent as Dounia, we also have to ensure that the Holocaust never happens again.  This is a very important story to share with young ones, but be prepared for lots of questions and lots of difficult answers.

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