By Ben & Maureen Tai, 7 November 2018
“Sometimes we do things without thinking, too.” – Dounia Cohen
One of the most difficult historical events to explain to a young child is the abhorrent persecution of the Jewish people during World War II, culminating in the Holocaust. But I was determined to make my own children aware of these shameful episodes in history, and I was fortunate to discover hidden, an incredibly powerful graphic novel about a young Jewish girl’s turbulent and heartbreaking childhood in Germany-controlled Vichy, France. The text is simple enough for a young child to read, but the pictures are honest and raw, and pack a deliberate emotional punch that is not easily forgotten.
Ben and I discussed the book after reading it together for the umpteenth time.
M: What is hidden about?
B: It is about the grandma’s life when she was young. She [Dounia] tells her granddaughter about it.
M: Was it a happy childhood?
B: No, it was not, because there was war going on and fighting. She has nightmares.
M: What happened during the grandma’s childhood?
B: The bad people took the grandma’s parents away.
B: Maybe because of their religion or just because they are different.
M: Were they Jewish?
B: Oh yeah, they were Jewish. So maybe they have a different religion or something. [Pause] They look the same though, as other people.
M: How did that make you feel, that the mum and dad were taken away?
B: Sad. Annoyed. And mad at the bad people. You should treat people the same way you want to be treated. If you punch someone, they may punch you back, so you shouldn’t punch them.
M: Should Jewish people be angry at how they were treated?
B: Yes, but I think they are more sad. I think that if someone wants to start a war now, the Jewish person would say “This happened to me and it was bad” and the person would say “Oh my, that’s bad” and then not start a war.
M: What else happens in the book?
B: Some good people save the grandma when she’s a small girl and they hide in the country. She learns to milk cows but she doesn’t like it when the old lady skins a rabbit.
M: Yeah, I don’t think I’d like that either. How did you feel at the end of the book?
B: After reading it, I felt sad and scared because of that picture of the mother when she came home after the camp (not the summer camp but the labour camp). She’s got a big head with big eyes and she looks creepy. Can we not look at that page again?
M: Sure, we don’t have to look at that page if you don’t want to. Why do you think there is war in the world?
B: Wars start because people get angry and can’t control themselves. To control their tempers, they should eat biscuits and squish squishies and punch pillows, not persons.
There you go. We need more biscuits, squishies and pillows for world peace.
For ages 7 and up.