Seeking Refuge

The Diary of Anne Frank was one of my favourite books as a tween. I had a beat up copy that I’d picked up at a library book sale and the binding glue had come undone on half the spine. Anne’s face smiled up at me from the cover. Somehow, every time I read it, I thought the ending may change, that this bright, plucky girl would somehow alter her fate.

I had to stop reading it. The finality of it became too much when I got older. By then, I learned enough history to fit Anne’s story fit into a disturbingly large context. It was too much. I picked up other books, fiction and otherwise, about the Second World War. There is a certain, consistent tone that appears in books set in this time period that feels reverent and familiar. Few periods in history are treated with such respect. The collective horror still resonates.

The variations of these books are, and were, endlessly interesting. Sometimes sad, sometimes triumphant. Sometimes horrible.

Seeking Refuge is the first graphic novel I’ve read that relates directly to the Holocaust and the Second World War. It is written by Irene N. Watts and illustrated by Kathryn E. Shoemaker. The book is about the first group of Jewish children included on the Kindertransport. The Kindertransport got children out of Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia prior to the Second World War.

Marianne, the main character, who is only 11 years old, ends up leaving Germany on the boat instead of another child who got measles. She is fortunate: she ends up in England instead of the Netherlands.

Shoemaker’s illustrations are simple and dreamy, softening the hard edges of a story of separation and uncertainty.

I’m glad Marianne gets a happy ending. So did Watts. She was one of the children who left Europe on the Kindertransport.

Irene N. Watts and Kathryn E. Shoemaker both appeared at Event 27 (Seeking Refuge) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.

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