It’s a normal day in Berlin in 1938; 11 year old Marianne Kohn walks to school and finds the front door locked tight. After knocking for several minutes her teacher, donning a Nazi Party arm band, steps out and hands Marianne a letter. By order of the Ministry of Education Marianne is expelled for being Jewish. This small but poignant scene is just the start to all of the changes in Marianne’s life in Kathryn E. Shoemaker’s moving adaptation of the award-winning novel for children by Irene N. Watts.
As the story develops we learn that Marianne’s father is in hiding while her mother does what she can to help keep her family and other members of her community safe. But as neighborhood shops close down and the Nazi police arrest more and more people Marianne’s mother makes a drastic choice: Marianne will change her name and travel away on a Kinderstransporte, a boat used to take orphaned children to new homes in England.
Shoemaker’s black-and-white pencils, with their simple lines and light shading, feel very close to the world of picture books and lend a very welcoming feeling for children who might not be used to the comic book form. But this work is quite clearly a comic and Shoemaker makes effective use of panels and layouts to drive the narrative and tell the story.
Some readers might feel the story doesn’t go far enough in portraying the horror of the Jewish Holocaust. But I would argue that this is a different kind of story. This tale is not about horror but about the sadness of separation of Marianne from her normal life. We see that demonstrated not through extreme events but through subtler moments built around character and relationships. Marianne feels quite shocked, for example, when she learns that her new friend Ernest is part of the Jung Volk, a special branch of the Hitler Youth. In an age where it can be very easy to push aside extreme circumstances that would feel very foreign to readers, this approach makes at least some of the realities of the Holocaust and World War II feel more plausible and accessible to kids.
Being an adaptation, this version carries many of the same flaws as the source material. The mother, for example, is highly idealized and developed very thinly as a character. And we are never given a chance to experience Marianne’s emotions after she fully separates from her old life and takes those first steps into her new one. Despite some of these weaknesses, however, Good-bye Marianne works quite well as a soft entry point into the difficult subject of the Jewish Holocaust for younger or more sensitive readers.