WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

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Resistance: Book 1
Written by Carla Jablonski,
Illustrated by Leland Purvis, Color by Hillary Sycamore.
First Second, 2010, 128 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-59643-291-8

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Resistance: Book 1 is a graphic novel about the resistance movement in Vichy France. Paul Tessier and his little sister Marie find life in the free zone confusing– life appears normal but hostility can erupt suddenly even among friends. They worry about their POW father and their Jewish friends, especially Henri Levy. As a coping mechanism, Paul sketches to remember and think. After Henri’s parents mysteriously disappear, Paul and Marie hide Henri at their family’s winery. When they stumble upon local resistance fighters nearby, the friends discover that it is not just soldiers who are fighting the Germans.

American novelist/playwright Carla Jablonski’s story about “the impact of living in an occupied country” explores the feelings of anxiety, loss, and confusion associated with war and how even small choices can be empowering (Manning, 2010). Her background as a playwright can be seen in the periodic terse, verbal exchanges between characters that set a tone of anxious tension. The muted color palate of the story panels contributes to the tension by creating a somber ominous mood reminiscent of the darker DC comics.

Jablonski’s characterizations and pacing entice readers to sit “at the edge of your seat” and to sympathize with the characters, such as when Henri is distraught over the disappearance of his parents after Germans take over the hotel or when the Tessiers and Henri reach the Paris checkpoint only to discover that the picture on Henri’s ID card does not match his disguise. Illustrator Leland Purvis uses Paul’s sketchpad as a visual device for characterization. Images from Paul’s sketchpad are incorporated into the story panels, allowing readers a glimpse into Paul’s thoughts or into events the friends have witnessed.

While the story alludes to atrocities such as the Velodrome roundup and deportation of the Jews, Jewish people are not solely depicted as victims nor are all townspeople heroes. While he could be categorized as a victim, Henri’s actions and attitude suggest he is not. Henri mourns the loss of his parents and expresses frustration over being hidden; however, he decides his family is more important than his safety so risks everything to find them. Realizing Henri’s determination to get to Paris could put him in danger, the Tessier children work with the local resistance movement to help reunite the family.

Overall, representations of culture are subtle. The most overt symbols of Jewish culture are the Star of David armbands seen at the train station and a menorah that Marie rescues from the Levy family’s hotel. Another reference, a makeshift bar mitzvah for Henri, serves less as a cultural marker and more as a foreshadowing of the children’s loss of innocence. Resistance: Book 1 portrays the culture of fear that pervaded the German-occupied territories rather than focuses on particular events and iconic representations of French culture, which could have contributed to a setting so vague that it could have been set anywhere. However, the iconic nature of the French Resistance movement makes it difficult to envision the story taking place anywhere else. Interestingly, evidence of the work’s historical accuracy is not found in a “References” list but rather in its lengthy preface, the author’s notes, and in interviews with the author, such as Manning, 2010.

The dark comic book-like tone and format make this book appealing to middle school and high school readers. The book provides a counterpoint to the Jewish internment stories by demonstrating the extent to which people, both Jewish and non-Jews, actively resisted Nazi forces. It could be paired with Rose Blanche (Roberto Innocenti, 1985) to highlight small acts of resistance as well as how personal values play into making difficult decisions. Other works that touch on Jablonski’s idea of living life as a small act of resistance include Flowers on the Wall (Mirian Nerlove, 1996), My Secret Camera (Frank Dabba Smith, 2000), and Sami and the Time of Troubles (Florence Parry Heide & Judith Heide Gilillund, 1995). A text set of this work, Gifts (Ursula LeGuin, 2006), Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins, 2010), and historical accounts from the Civil Rights movement could challenge older readers to consider how small acts of resistance can inspire change.

Manning, Shaun. (2010). Carla Jablonski joins the “Resistance”, Comic Book Resources http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=25297

Monique Storie
University of Guam, Guam

17 thoughts on “WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures

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  8. Brittany Drechsel says:

    I read Number The Stars and felt as if the book gives a different view on experiences during this time era. I highly recommend this book if you haven’t already read it! It is a great book to use in schools to teach older elementary kids about the Holocaust.

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  10. Joanna Montoya says:

    Tropical Secrets is written in verse format, resulting in a simple but yet sophisticated and developed story line. The author portrays a unique perspective on Jewish refugees in Cuba. I never would have thought there were Jewish refugees who ended up in Cuba before learning about this book. This book would be a great teaching aid about Nazi Germany. Suggested for upper elementary/middle school.

  11. Ana-Alicia says:

    Tropical Secret is really moving and makes the reader think about how many struggles those that escaped went though during WWII. There are of course many books focused on the holocaust and WWII, however, most are views from within Europe. I appreciated the different perspective Engle gave in this novel. Another thing i enjoyed about it was the style in which she wrote in in. It is very child friendly read that still includes descriptive wording and stimulating vocabulary. It is an inspiring and interesting read for students of many ages and adults.

  12. marigold says:

    “Tropical Secrets” illuminates an untold history of Cuba’s role as a sometimes safe harbor for Jewish refugees during WWII. The narratives are lyrical and as alluded to in the conclusion, “Tropical Secrets” could be the title of a favorite fable sung in the corner of a dark cafe accompanied by the flamenco guitar Jewish refugee Daniel is gifted by native daugther Paloma.

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