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White Bird: A Wonder Story Summary & Study Guide

R. J. Palacio
This Study Guide consists of approximately 31 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of White Bird.
This section contains 1,041 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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White Bird: A Wonder Story Summary & Study Guide Description

White Bird: A Wonder Story Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on White Bird: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio.

The following version of this book was used to create the guide: Palacio, R. J. White Bird. Alfred A. Knopf, 2019.

The prologue takes place in the present day. In the prologue, Grandmere spoke with her grandson, Julian, via a videocall. He said he wanted to interview her for school.

Grandmere then thinks back to her childhood to tell Julian about her experiences. Chapter 1 takes place in Grandmere's childhood. Her name is Sara, and she grew up in a well-off Jewish family in 1930s France. She spent the weekends with her parents in the bluebell fields beside the Mernuit Forest. Her dad would toss her and pretend she was a bird. They would recite a rhyme together.

During World War 2, the Nazis took control of France. Anti-Semitism spread. For example, a schoolmate named Vincent ridiculed Sara because she was Jewish. Sara’s dad asked her to wear her boots to school. However, when he was not looking, she put on her fashionable red shoes instead. She cared more about looking fashionable and being popular.

The pastor who was the head of the school interrupted Sara’s class as Madame Pettijean was teaching. The Jewish children needed to hide in the woods with a maquisard because the Nazis were coming to round up the Jewish children. Madame Pettijean gave Sara her scarf. While the other kids ran with the maquisard to hide in the forest, Sara snuck away into the bell tower. She feared that going into the woods would damage her shoes. The Nazis found the kids in the woods and fatally shot the maquisard. The Nazis forced the children onto trucks. Madame Pettijean insisted on going onto a Nazi truck with her students.

A classmate named Tourteau, whom the children often bullied, found Sara in the bell tower. Tourteau showed her a way to safely sneak out of the school building. They walked through the sewer area, and it was freezing. Tourteau gave Sara his coat. He took Sara to his family’s barn where his parents (Jean-Paul and Vivienne) helped her hide. They feared that their neighbors, the Lafleurs, were Nazi conspirators.

"Tourteau" is the French word for "crab." Classmates had nicknamed him "Tourteau" because his legs were damaged when he had contracted polio as a child. He asked Sara to call him by his real name, Julien.

Sara got used to hiding in the barn. Every morning, Vivienne walked six kilometers out of her way to visit her. Vivienne was always cheerful. They chatted and played cards together. Vivienne also washed Sara's hair. Every evening, after nightfall, Julien visited Sara to play together.

One day, while in Pastor Luc's office, Julien noticed Sara's sketchbook. That evening, he snuck into the school building, grabbed the sketchbook, and ran directly to the barn. However, the sky was not yet dark outside. Julien gave Sara her sketchbook. They heard Vincent and a couple others coming, so Sara hid up in the rafters. Vincent attacked Julien and tried to kill him, but then, for no known reason, bats suddenly flew and scared Vincent. Vincent and his friends fled.

Sara came down from the rafters to help Julien. He told her to go back up to hide in the rafters because Vincent could come back. She refused, asserting that she did not care if Vincent hurt her. Then Julien yelled that Sara was immature and self-centered. It was not just about her. If Vincent found her, he would hurt Julien's parents, too. Then Julien said Sara was selfish just like she was in school when she did not even know his name. Julien cried and left.

The next day, Vivienne reassured Sara that Julien was just mad at himself. He should not have taken the sketchbook. That was too risky. A couple weeks later, Julien finally came back to the barn again. Sara apologized for her selfishness and immaturity, and their friendship reignited. On Sara’s birthday, Julien gave Sara a bird that he whittled for her. That night, Julien showed Sara the bluebells in the forest. They kissed. Sara gave Julien her sketchbook.

The next day, soldiers forced Julien onto a truck. Vincent found Julien’s bag and Sara’s sketchbook. Then he remembered the night at the barn and hurried to the barn to try to find Sara. He fired gunshots through the barn’s roof. However, those gunshot holes helped Sara escape because she could punch a hole in the roof. She climbed through that hole and onto the roof, and then ran into the woods. While Vincent tried to shoot and kill Sara, Sara prayerfully asked her mom for help. Vincent’s gun suddenly ran out of bullets, and then a wolf came and killed Vincent.

Sara saw that Vincent had carried Julien’s sketchbook, making her realize that Julien had been captured. She ran to the Beaumiers' house to tell Vivienne, but Sara did not know her way around the house. She ran into Rabbi Bernstein and his wife. To Sara's surprise, the Beaumiers' house connected with the Lafleurs' house by a stairway. Sara learned that the Lafleurs had been giving an elderly Jewish couple, the Bernsteins, a place to stay. The Lafleurs were not Nazi-conspirators after all. Rather, they had protected the Bernsteins.

When Vivienne returned, Sara told her that soldiers had captured Julien. The Lafleurs gave Vivienne money to bribe the soldiers. However, she could not get to Julien in time to save him. The soldiers shot and killed him. Sara believed his soul flew “free as a bird” (177). His body was never found.

Sara stayed with the Lafleurs until the end of the war. After the war's end, Sara and her dad reunited.

The epilogue takes place in the present day. Grandmere (Sara) speaks with her grandson, Julian. He asks how the Holocaust— and the murder of 6 million Jews— could have happened. Grandmere reminds him that evil happens when good people do not stop it. She reminds him that he and his generation will need to fight against injustice when they see it.

After the call with Julian ends, Grandmere reads the newspaper and sees hatred and racism happening. Julian participates in a protest for refugees; it is a protest against injustice.

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